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Coping With A Burned Out Boss 


by Vicky Oliver, author of “Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers & Other Office Idiots

Your boss is on vacation. Permanently. Maybe in the past she was the golden child of the firm, but that was in the distant past. When you try to talk to her, she gets a glazed, faraway look in her eyes. You’re not sure if she’s listening. When you email her, her responses are vague and hard to decipher. You don’t understand why she can’t be more enthusiastic about your work product. You are enthusiastic enough for both of you!

Before you attribute her lack of interest to something dire like divorce or an incurable case or something ghastly, consider: Is it possible she’s suffering from burnout? And if so, how can you get her to get back her spark?

Burnout is all too real in our modern workplace. Recent figures shows 28 percent of workers suffer from it – and the numbers go up in high-stress careers. Generally it follows periods of prolonged stress or extended working hours without any chance away from job responsibilities to recharge. Burnout manifests as physical and mental exhaustion. It’s actually become so prevalent that the World Health Organization recently made it a medical diagnosis.

When the symptoms become undeniable in your boss, you and others on her team will inevitably experience the backlash. Be prepared to take up the slack.

Do your part – and protect yourself from burnout – using these tips:

1. Do the best job you can, and then some.

When you shine, your boss does as well. Your fantastic work product is going to reflect well… on both of you. Rather than resenting the credit that your boss will no doubt glean from your fine efforts, look at your hard work as the key to shaking him our of his burnout. Your effort will be rewarded. Higher-ups will compliment you and your boss, and the recognition may jolt him out of his doldrums.

2. Do your job so well that your boss can take some hard-earned time off.

If she’s of no use during her time at the office, it’s apparent your boss needs a complete break from work. Show her that you’re doing such a great job that she won’t have to fret about you at all while she’s gone. Then try to persuade her to take some time off. A two-week vacation where she can remain unplugged and undisturbed can turn out to be rejuvenating and help restore her drive. Maybe post pictures of yourself on vacation that your boss will see on Facebook. Talk about the restorative benefits of your last vacation.

3. Decide whether to reassess your role.

If you feel your boss has been burned out for a long time, and that a vacation won’t help his condition, then it’s time to switch strategies. Think of him as MIA. It’s almost like he’s not there even when he is. Think of ways you can fill in the void. Maybe it’s an opportunity for you to step up and seek a promotion.

4. Scope out a new role model.

A burned out boss is unlikely to be a good mentor for you, so look for mentoring elsewhere. Is there another person in the department who can mentor you? Along with career advice, ask for guidance in dealing with your burned out boss.

5. Take care to not work yourself into a depleted state of your own.

Accepting more responsibility in the short term can get your department over the hump while your boss is checked out, but avoid taking on too much for too long. Watch for your own signs of burnout, including becoming short-tempered, feeling apathetic about your work or getting sick frequently. Prioritize your own physical and emotional needs, and find solace in supportive relationships either with colleagues, family or friends. Take a cue from the pre-flight safety briefings when you’re on an airplane and “adjust your own oxygen mask first before helping others.”



Vicky Oliver is a leading career development expert and the multi-bestselling author of five books, including “301 Smart Answers to Tough Business Etiquette Questions” and “Bad Bosses, Crazy Coworkers & Other Office Idiots“. She is a sought-after speaker and seminar presenter and a popular media source, having made over 901 appearances in broadcast, print, and online outlets.