The Amber Light

Amber LightIn the Sunday, May 30th edition of Le Journal de Montréal,*** an article by social psychologist Monique Soucy titled “Pré-épuisement professionnel: une lumière jaune” (“Professional Pre-Burnout: An Amber Light”) caught my attention in a big way.

I recently blogged about how I’m feeling about my day job these days, which ironically comes on the heels of a professional high point. Last year I did not set out on that huge project thinking I would be awared a cruise for my effort. Rather, I just did what I always do: I look at a situation and I find a way of solving the problem and being more efficient in the end. Those who know me know I can take a complex set of data and not only organize it well but also work like a bastard to create a way of keeping it well organized as easily as possible. If something must be built from scratch, then be it, but always look at what was learned in previous experiences in order to enshrine what worked but ditch what didn’t work.

To employ one of many tired corporate clichés, I was given license to colour outside the lines. And this allowed me to prove that just because things had been one way since the dawn of time doesn’t mean it should continue that way forever. It also allowed me to demonstrate that even in a huge bureaucracy where evolution can be as slow as pouring molasses outdoors in January, it can be possible to push a challenge upwards and not only make things happen faster but also prepare us to respond more quickly to the next challenge. In our case, the next challenge was an exponential increase of our workload with no expectation of adding more people to our team to complete all that work.

When I returned from the cruise, I came back with encouragements to propose ways of making more (unrelated) changes that would have had a positive impact on our clients’ experience. I love being in a position where I can do more than just whine about a bad situation, where I can actually put forward a concrete solution even if it’s outside my official job description. My motivation is not to tell other people how to do their job; it’s to share what I happen to know since, as far as I’m concerned, we’re all working on the same big team.

But, systematically, my new big ideas were poopooed and I was reassigned to daily duties I had clearly stated I had no interest in pursuing, ostensibly because I’m the only bilingual member of my team and I had done them well when I was doing them. My workload increased but my role was forced into a much tighter little hole that offers little variety and comes complete with verbal reprimands if I even dare to poke a little finger outside that hole.

The most appalling? I have been told in so many words recently that I had my chance to shine last year; now is the time to let others shine. As if that’s what motivates me to begin with! Talk about not knowing who I am and how I work!

Then comes Soucy’s article in Le Journal de Montréal, coincidentally when for the first time in four years I wake up mornings feeling tired despite working normal hours and getting more sleep each night than I used to at the height of my “big project,” and hating Mondays as I contemplate another week of being put in my place as one would a misbehaving child.

Overcoming big challenges one after another while simultaneously being imposed new ones and managing conflicts and sundry unexpected situations but continuing to perform well: this expectation [of workers] is more widespread than one might believe. … After a few months, these workers find themselves exhausted and demotivated and have trouble concentrating. Those are the first signs of a professional pre-burnout. It’s a yellow light. Should they ignore it, slow down the pace, stop or …accelerate? The consequences could be vastly different.

Summer is in full swing here and in seven or eight weeks, I’ll be going on two-week’s vacation. Plus, as I mentioned in my previous rant on this subject, I’ve been putting off way too many things in my personal life lately. So, as much as it kills me to put a lid on it and to accept that, in a bureaucracy, someone who has too many ideas is apt to be seen as a shit disturber, I’m having to tell myself that it’s time for me to hang low.

Because if I don’t, the light might go from amber to red.

***Addendum: I know there’s a whole bunch of reasons why I shouldn’t be reading this paper, chiefly the lockout of its newsroom staff that’s been going on for more than a year now. But it was the only thing to read while I was having brunch on my own.