The Phase before Burnout: Bargaining

by Emily Jasper on April 23, 2009

*I would like to thank my friend Lonny Smith for contributing the term “Bargaining” to this blog post.*

I have felt Burnout before. That’s usually the phase where nightmares about spreadsheets and powerpoints keep you awake at night. It’s when you dread going to work, but it’s as if autopilot compels you to hit morning traffic anyways. It’s also when there’s some kind of breakdown: be it missing a major deadline, forgetting half of your job, or having a meltdown in a staff meeting (or all of the above).

Gen-Yers have a special relationship with Burnout. Many will quit jobs before ever getting there, or end up living in Burnout until something better comes along. I would argue, however, than many Gen-Yers live in the phase before Burnout: Bargaining.

This is by no means an official term, coined by some psychologist who has years of research on this phase. Nope, just a couple of old friends coming up with a name.

Bargaining. During a period of Bargaining, one might negotiate, plea, come to terms with, or compromise work. This does not mean you go around haggling with co-workers on project responsibilities (though I’m sure you could). Bargaining before Burnout is more about navigating your way around your current role, what is expected of you, and where you can commit.

An example of Bargaining is this: Sally is a manager. She has three direct reports and is one of five reporting into her boss. Her boss has a hard time prioritizing. Sally’s job currently includes job responsibilities A, commitments on her behalf B, and last minute requests C. B has started taking up the majority of her time, meaning she’s then handling fires from C, and A doesn’t get attention. That’s right, she’s not even able to handle her initial job responsibilities.

During a period of Bargaining, Sally will probably look at how to handle A, B, and C, attempting to complete her original duties, while meet the needs of others. But as part of that, she’ll want to understand why so many projects are being committed to on her behalf (plus who keeps volunteering her), and do these really impact the current priorities for her group. Additionally, why are there suddenly so many last minute requests? What changed that made normal process difficult? If B and C end up being out of her control, Sally may begin to look for something else.

For many Gen-Yers, this is the evaluation phase before jumping ship.

This isn’t to say that other generations don’t live in this phase as well. They probably do. But we also know that X-ers and Boomers have “waited it out” in jobs that seem to only have one road up the ranks. That thanks to things like paperwork and inefficient process, people come home never actually doing the job that they wanted, but acted as a red tape handler.

Have you ever hit the Bargaining phase? How did you handle it? Did it automatically lead to Burnout, or were you able to avoid it?

The views expressed in my blog are my own and do not necessarily reflect those of my employer.

Photo from Clip Art