How to Tell the Boss You’re Burned Out
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How to Tell the Boss You’re Burned Out

We’re sharing more at work these days, but it can be risky to confess to being overwhelmed.

By RACHEL FEINTZEIG
Tue, Dec 14, 2021 11:39amGrey Clock 4 min

You’re burned out at work. Does your manager need to know?

More than half of workers surveyed by the Conference Board in September said their mental health has degraded since the start of the pandemic, with rising workloads and blurred boundaries as top culprits. Companies have stayed lean after layoffs, and the recent flood of job quitters means workers who stay have more to do. Nearly two years of a global health crisis have left us feeling overwhelmed—and getting more comfortable admitting it.

“So much was happening in the world that it became ok to say, ‘Yeah I’m not good,’ because nobody was good,” says Taisha Caldwell-Harvey, founder of the Black Girl Doctor, a therapy and corporate wellness practice. “More people are open to saying, ‘I need help.’ ”

Still, talking about burnout with a boss isn’t the same as talking about it with a friend. Stigma around mental-health challenges is real, psychologists warn. How can you get some breathing room, and back to feeling like yourself, without jeopardizing your career?

You don’t need to share just for the sake of sharing, Dr. Caldwell-Harvey says. “The goal is to share so that you can ask for what you need.”

Assess what it would take to stop feeling overwhelmed, and think about whether you really require permission to get it. Can you attend virtual therapy on Thursday mornings without telling your boss? Do you need a deadline extension, different work hours or a leave of absence? Speak up if you need to, and mention burnout by name if your colleagues seem supportive of diverging viewpoints and mental-health struggles, Dr. Caldwell-Harvey says.

But keep it simple. Your manager isn’t your therapist, she adds.

For all the risk, a lot of positives can come from sharing how you’re really doing—deeper trust with colleagues, permission for others to open up, a nudge away from a pressure-cooker work culture toward something more humane. You could be less miserable, and so could everyone else.

Elizabeth Rosenberg, 42, felt herself approaching burnout a couple of years ago while working for an advertising firm. An earlier bout had landed her in the emergency room, suffering from an intense migraine that left her unable to move. She didn’t want to go back to that. But she worried she’d be perceived as weak or unable to handle her job if she confessed how she was feeling.

She came up with a specific ask: She wanted to take off an entire month. She picked August, when business tended to be slowest, and approached her boss in January, giving him plenty of time to prepare for her absence.

“There was no emotion in it,” she says of how she presented the idea. She told him she was burned out and would have to leave the company later that year if she couldn’t take a break. To her surprise, he said sure.

“If you don’t say something, nothing will change,” says Ms. Rosenberg, who went on to found the Good Advice Company, a marketing and communications consultancy in Los Angeles. “But you have to be brave enough to say something.”

Burnout can feel like a uniquely individual experience, as if you’re the only one who can’t keep pace. But workplace researchers say it isn’t just you.

Employees across industries feel worn down and used up because what they are being asked to do is unrealistic, says Erin Kelly, a professor at the MIT Sloan School of Management and co-author of the book “Overload: How Good Jobs Went Bad and What We Can Do About It.” The backlog of tasks, the lack of resources—it isn’t sustainable for long.

“There had already been a speedup in many jobs before the pandemic, and then we turned up that volume,” she says.

A yoga class or a meditation session isn’t going to fix the problem. Instead, Dr. Kelly’s research examining an overworked IT division at a Fortune 500 firm before the pandemic found that team interventions are what make a difference. Employees whose managers were trained to check in to see how they were doing personally and professionally, and to give them flexibility to work how they wanted, had significantly lower levels of burnout and psychological distress than a control group. They were also 40% less likely to quit.

Another thing that helped: workshops where folks shared their stress and plotted what the team could let go of, like superfluous meetings clogging their calendars.

“Employees reported that they just felt free,” Dr. Kelly says. “It’s going to be easier to approach as a collective project than to stick your own neck out as an individual.”

Anne Ngo started struggling last fall as the second wave of the pandemic hit Toronto, where she lives. Isolated in her apartment, working 12-hour days, she began having anxiety attacks, difficulty sleeping and back and shoulder pain. Demand at her job as a recruiter at Ada, which provides clients with AI chat bots, had come roaring back, and she was tasked with trying to fill 40 to 50 roles a quarter instead of the usual 20.

“I was just one person,” the 33-year-old said. She began to feel like a cog, never really having an impact as colleagues ordered up an ever-increasing number of new hires. Yet the job became her life.

“I just couldn’t shut off,” she says.

She waited until she had hit her goals for the quarter before approaching Chelsea MacDonald, the company’s senior vice president of operations.

“I needed to have leverage of, ‘I did well, but I did well compromising my own well-being, and I don’t think this is ok,’ ” Ms. Ngo says. “I’m pretty sure I just blurted out everything I’d been holding for months.”

Ms. MacDonald says she’s happy Ms. Ngo spoke up. Ms. Ngo started therapy and acupuncture, while Ms. MacDonald talked to other teams to help reduce the demands on her.

“The honest answer is the workload just has to change,” Ms. MacDonald says. Instead of workers suffering, “the business needs to feel a little bit of pain.”

By January, Ms. Ngo had won a promotion and was able to hire for her own team, to spread the load. She sometimes wishes she had said something earlier about her burnout.

Talking about it, she says, “was a relief.”



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The Lifespan of Large Appliances Is Shrinking

Appliance technicians blame a push toward computerisation and an increase in the quantity of components inside a machine

By RACHEL WOLFE
Thu, Feb 22, 2024 4 min

Our refrigerators, washing machines and ovens can do more than ever, from producing symmetrical ice cubes to remotely preheating on your commute home. The downside to all these snazzy features is that the appliances are more prone to breaking.

Appliance technicians and others in the industry say there has been an increase in items in need of repair. Yelp users, for example, requested 58% more quotes from thousands of appliance repair businesses last month than they did in January 2022.

Those in the industry blame a push toward computerisation, an increase in the quantity of individual components and flimsier materials for undercutting reliability. They say even higher-end items aren’t as durable.

American households spent 43% more on home appliances in 2023 than they did in 2013, rising from an inflation-adjusted average of $390 to $558, according to Euromonitor International. Prices for the category declined 12% from the beginning of 2013 through the end of 2023, according to the Labor Department.

One reason for the discrepancy between spending and prices is a higher rate of replacement, say consumers, repair technicians and others. That’s left some people wishing they had held on to their clunky ’90s-era appliances and others bargaining with repair workers over intractable ice makers and dryers that run cold.

“We’re making things more complicated, they’re harder to fix and more expensive to fix,” says Aaron Gianni, the founder of do-it-yourself home-repair app Plunjr.

Horror stories

Sharon J. Swan spent nearly $7,000 on a Bosch gas range and smart refrigerator. She thought the appliances would last at least through whenever she decided to sell her Alexandria, Va., home and impress would-be buyers.

That was before the oven caught fire the first time she tried the broiler, leading to a 911 call and hasty return. The ice-maker in the refrigerator, meanwhile, is now broken for the third time in under two years. Bosch covered the first two fridge fixes, but she says she’s on her own for the latest repair, totalling $250, plus parts.

“I feel like I wasted my money,” says the 65-year-old consultant for trade associations.

A Bosch spokeswoman said in an emailed statement that the company has been responsive to Swan’s concerns and will continue to work with her to resolve ongoing issues. “Bosch appliances are designed and manufactured to meet the highest quality standards, and they are built to last,” she said.

Kevin and Kellene Dinino wish they had held on to their white dishwasher from the ’90s that was still working great.

The sleeker $800 GE stainless steel interior dishwasher they purchased sprang a hidden leak within three years, causing more than $35,000 worth of damage to their San Diego kitchen.

Home insurance covered the claim, which included replacing the hardwood down to the subfloor and all their bottom cabinetry, but kicked the Dininos off their policy. The family also went without access to their kitchen for months.

“This was a $60 pump that was broken. What the hell happened?” says Kevin, 45, who runs a financial public-relations firm.

A GE Appliances spokeswoman said the company takes appliance issues seriously and works quickly to resolve them with consumers.

Increased complexity

Peel back the plastic on a modern refrigerator or washing machine and you’ll see a smattering of sensors and switches that its 10-year-old counterpart lacks. These extra components help ensure the appliance is using only the energy and water it needs for the job at hand, technicians say. With more parts, however, more tends to go wrong more quickly, they say.

Mansoor Soomro, a professor at Teesside University, a technical college in Middlesbrough, England, says home appliances are breaking down more often. He says that manufacturers used to rely mostly on straightforward mechanical parts (think an on/off switch that triggers a single lever). In the past decade or so, they’ve transitioned to relying more on sophisticated electrical and computerised parts (say, a touch screen that displays a dozen different sensor-controlled wash options).

When a complicated machine fails, technicians say they have a much harder time figuring out what went wrong. Even if the technician does diagnose the problem, consumers are often left with repairs that exceed half the cost of replacement, rendering the machine totalled.

“In the majority of cases, I would say buying a new one makes more economic sense than repairing it,” says Soomro, who spent seven years working at Siemens , including in the home-appliances division.

These machines are also now more likely to be made with plastic and aluminium rather than steel, Soomro says. High-efficiency motors and compressors, too, are likely to be lighter-duty, since they’re tasked with drawing less energy .

A spokeswoman for the Association for Home Appliance Manufacturers says the industry has “enhanced the safety, energy efficiency, capacity and performance of appliances while adding features and maintaining affordability and durability for purchasers.” She says data last updated in 2019 shows that the average life of an appliance has “not substantially shifted over the past two decades.”

When simpler is better

Kathryn Ryan and Kevin Sullivan needed a new sensor to fix their recently purchased $1,566 GE Unitized Spacemaker washer-dryer. GE wasn’t able to fix the sensor for months, so the couple paid a local technician $300 to get the machine working.

The repairman also offered them a suggestion: Avoid the sensor option and stick to timed dries.

“You should be able to use whatever function you please on a brand new appliance, ideally,” says Sullivan, a 32-year-old musician in Burbank, Calif.

More features might seem glamorous, Frontdoor virtual appliance tech Jim Zaccone says, but fewer is usually better.

“Consumers are wising up to the failures that are happening and going, ‘Do I really need my oven to preheat while I’m at the grocery store?’” jokes Zaccone, who has been in the appliance-repair business for 21 years.

He just replaced his own dishwasher and says he bought one with “the least bells and whistles.” He also opted for a mass-market brand with cheap and readily available parts. Most surprisingly, he chose a bottom-of-the-line model.

“Spending a lot of money on something doesn’t guarantee you more reliability,” says Zaccone.

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