7 tips to overcome a slump at work

Don't assume the problem will go away

Editor's note: This story was updated on April 25, 2018.

All jobs have their ups and downs, but how do you know when a temporary slump is something more serious? In a post for Harvard Business Review, Carolyn O'Hara talks with several experts about how to overcome burnout—or decide it's time to move on.

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Be proactive. The first step could be admitting that you are in a slump, says Daniel Gulati, a tech entrepreneur and author. And a common mistake people make is to assume a rut will naturally pass or that it cannot be addressed. "The vast majority of people lack a coherent, actionable strategy to get from dissatisfied to satisfied to wildly satisfied," Gulati says, adding that even putting together a rough plan of action can be reinvigorating.

Make an assessment. Gretchen Spreitzer, a professor of business administration at the University of Michigan, says focusing on what makes you feel engaged at work may help turn the tide—and that assessing what makes you happy outside of work can help, too. "You have to look for the things in your everyday work life that give you joy, and find ways to bring more of those into your job," she says.

Look outward. If evaluating what energizes you at work doesn't provide enough insight, O'Hara recommends looking at what colleagues think you are good at and request of you. "Assuming you enjoy that work, perhaps you can shift some of your responsibilities or attention to be more focused on doing that type of work," she suggests.

Get creative. If you really need a significant change in your day-to-day activities, don't assume it requires looking for another job. "There are lots of ways to make changes around the edges of your job description to play more to your passions and talents," Spreitzer notes. And if you don't have the freedom to make changes on your own, Gulati recommends making sure your boss knows "you want more challenges that fit your goals and talents."

Find energetic colleagues. "Our work relationships have a profound effect on how we perceive our jobs," O'Hara writes, noting that connecting with more energetic and passionate people can help overcome reduced interest in work. Spreitzer recommends teaching and mentoring colleagues in order to grow your skills and build relationships.

Reward yourself. O'Hara says to keep a list of everything you accomplish in a day—both big and small. "Crafting the list can give you a renewed appreciation for the things you've been able to achieve for the day, which often produces a little emotional boost," O'Hara writes. "Then you can use it to build a bridge between what you have achieved and what you want to work on," Gulati adds.

Know when to make an exit. If you have been proactive and taken steps to improve your experience but life, experts say it may be time to look for a different role in your organization or think about moving on. Having a "bad day" and "bad weeks," Gulati says, is far more ok than having "bad months." (O'Hara, Harvard Business Review, 7/23).

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