Earlier this month, Sheryl Sandberg announced her resignation from Facebook parent Meta Platforms, Inc. Her departure was a surprise to many people. Ms. Sandberg was the Chief Operating Officer of one of the biggest and most powerful companies in the world. She was the primary reason why Facebook scaled from a company with $153 million in revenue and 500 employees in 2007 to its current size, with more than 77,000 employees.
This past week, the Wall Street Journal reported that Ms. Sandberg decided to leave Meta after a years-long process of battling job burnout. She felt like she had become a punching bag for the company’s problems and that she was targeted in a way that would not happen to a man, according to the Journal. This caused Ms. Sandberg to become disconnected from the business and less visible publicly.
In a way, Ms. Sandberg’s departure shouldn’t have been surprising. The writing was on the wall. Job burnout is real and it’s becoming more prevalent. It can happen to anyone at any level, like Ms. Sandberg, who earned $35.2 million in 2021 and has a net worth of $1.6 billion.
For many people, the pandemic made things worse. As a large portion of the workforce began working from home, the lines between work and home life started to blur. The problem has even worse effects on women who, according to research, often bear the bulk of household chores and childcare at home.
Job burnout is bad for everyone. The worker’s mental and physical health suffers at work and outside of work. And companies suffer from less productivity, less employee retention, and likely increased healthcare costs.
The good news is that, for the most part, job burnout is no longer a taboo subject. More companies today recognize the importance of mental health. Just last month, Goldman Sachs, a 150 years-old company known for its long-hours and hard-charging culture, started allowing senior employees to take unlimited time off. Perks like unlimited PTO used to be reserved for young tech companies like Netflix and Twitter.
Reducing burnout takes effort by both the employee and the employer. A good company culture is one that encourages mental wellness and work-life balance. But a good company culture can’t be effective if employees don’t take advantage of it.
Use your vacation days. Seriously. Many people, including myself at one point, accumulate vacation days for years without ever using them. A break from work is necessary to recharge. Even if you can’t plan a vacation, at a minimum, take a mental health day. Some companies, Like Ms. Sandberg’s Meta, offer extended sabbaticals. If yours does, use it. Ms. Sandberg never used hers.
Use your sick days. The pandemic killed the sick day for those of us who work remotely. Revive it. If you’re sick, take a sick day and don’t log in to work.
Take advantage of other company benefits. A gym membership, employee assistance programs (EAPs), flexible work schedules, yoga and meditation classes, and social events are all examples of benefits that many employers offer. Take advantage of them.
Separate work from home. If you work remotely, set boundaries between work and personal life. If possible, dedicate a room in your home to work only and train your mind to “clock out” at a certain time. And resist the evil temptation to check your work email afterhours.
Take FMLA leave. If you’re eligible for FMLA leave, take it. Though FMLA leave is reserved for “serious health conditions,” job burnout is often linked to anxiety, stress, and depression, all of which could be qualifying reasons to take FMLA leave. Though FMLA leave is unpaid, many employers will allow you to take FMLA leave concurrently with other paid leave, like short-term disability, medical leave, vacation days, and sick days.
Request a reasonable accommodation. Anxiety, stress, depression, and other mental health conditions associated with job burnout will often be considered a “disability” under the Americans with Disabilities Act. By law, your employer is required to discuss reasonable accommodations with you in good faith. Request the accommodation that you need to do your job and don’t hesitate to hire an attorney to help you with the process.
Don’t be scared to quit. In this climate, workers have tremendous bargaining power. The Great Resignation has gotten most job-switchers big raises. If your current work environment is toxic, you should find a job somewhere else or even consider starting your own business. The vast majority of my own clients who switch jobs (often involuntarily) tell me they are in a significantly better place—mentally and professionally—than they were before leaving their former employer. Ms. Sandberg herself received two inquiries gauging her interest in a board chair seat and a CEO role within two hours of announcing her resignation, according to the Journal.