This week, the Prime Minister of New Zealand, Jacinda Ardern, announced her sudden resignation, saying she no longer had “enough in the tank” to continue leading her country.
“I’m leaving because with such a privileged role comes responsibility — the responsibility to know when you are the right person to lead and also when you are not,” she said. “I know what this job takes. And I know that I no longer have enough in the tank to do it justice.“
Ardern said she would not seek re-election and will conclude her term no later than Feb. 7. At age 37, Ardern became the world’s youngest female head of government and is a globally popular figure. She was praised internationally for banning military-style semiautomatic assault rifles after the Christchurch shootings in 2019 and for how she led the country with one of the lowest COVID death tolls.
Support for Ardern has dropped in recent months over rising living costs and social inequality, but Ardern said in her resignation that she was leaving not because the job was hard but because it was time.
“I am human, politicians are human. We give all that we can for as long as we can. And then it’s time. And for me, it’s time,” she said, adding later, “I am looking forward to spending time with my family again — arguably, they are the ones that have sacrificed the most out of all of us.“
Part of quitting a job because of burnout means choosing what matters most to you besides a job. In Ardern’s speech, she noted that she was looking forward to being there for her daughter Neve when school started and told her partner in the audience, “Let’s finally get married.”
Leaders “are very obligated to lots of people, they face a lot of public criticism, and I think people forget that there’s a human behind that very public face,” said Lauren Appio, a psychologist, executive coach and consultant specializing in mental health at work. “I don’t know Jacinda in the least, I can’t speculate on her mental health, but I can say that running a country is a pretty high-pressure job.”
Very few of us will ever face the pressures of leading a country, but experiencing burnout at work, even for a job you love, is very common.
Here are the signs that you may no longer have “enough in the tank” to continue working and what to do about it.
Your body and mind will tell you when you lack “enough in the tank” to do your job. Don’t ignore the warning signs.
Early burnout signs can feel like a bad mood that will not leave.
“Earlier signs can include a sense of dread, irritability and/or agitation, difficulty focusing on necessary tasks, and a mind that wanders to all the other activities you’d rather be doing,” said Ryan Howes, a clinical psychologist based in Pasadena, California. “These point to diminished energy and passion for the work. When the burnout is more advanced, people may begin making significant mistakes, have an increase in interpersonal conflict, and notice physical signs of stress.”
Howes said that before you consider quitting, you want to ensure that work is the source of these feelings. “Some may feel burned out at work because they have an underlying illness, are malnourished, have a sleep disorder, or are experiencing a high level of stress outside the office, for example,” he said.
But if you determine the burnout is work-related, you want to address it before these emotions lead to physical symptoms. That’s when the burnout can affect your immune system and how your body functions, said Katheryn Perez, a California-based psychotherapist. As a result, you may get sick more than usual, you may experience blurry vision, fatigue and gastrointestinal issues such as constipation, diarrhea, bloating and upset stomach, she noted.
“These physical symptoms can make it extremely uncomfortable and painful for people to continue functioning in the workplace,” Perez said.
One big warning sign that quitting might be your best option is when you stop finding joy in your everyday life, said career strategist Ana Goehner.
“When a job demands so much of your time and energy and leaves you depleted and drained, you can’t spend quality time with your friends and family,” she said. “When you don’t find joy in daily activities and can’t practice self-care, it’s time to leave. “
If you feel your job is starting to harm important bonds, like those with your family, that can be the tipping point that it’s also time to go.
“When I’m working with people, and they get to that point where they decide, ‘I just can’t do it anymore,’ it’s often this feeling of resignation,” Appio said. “‘This isn’t worth it to me. This has just gotten so bad, and there aren’t enough good things that are keeping me here, or it’s affecting really important areas of my life, my relationship, my parenting.’ Those are really the things that push people over the edge.”
If you can’t leave yet, there are strategies to limit work’s influence on you.
Ardern can step down, but many of us may be in situations where we cannot tender our immediate resignation. If that sounds like you, there are still strategies to cope in the meantime:
Identify which parts of the job are most stressful and ask for them to be changed.
“Maybe you like the work itself but don’t enjoy your manager or a certain co-worker. Is it possible to move to a different part of the company? Maybe you’re expected to give presentations, but public speaking stresses you out. Could you ask to have that removed from your duties?” Howes suggested. “Many of my clients have been surprised to find that asking for certain changes or accommodations at work was much easier and better received than expected and wished they had asked sooner.”
Talk about your struggles with trusted folks.
Howes said that talking about work stress with co-workers, trusted friends, or family members can help you realize you aren’t alone and aren’t strange for feeling stressed.
Build your savings now so that you can leave sooner.
Appio recommended people experiencing burnout invest and save money where they can so “you have some runway and have a little bit more freedom in terms of whether you have to stay or go.“
Take advantage of any resources your company offers that give you short-term relief.
Check if your company has an Employee Assistance Program (EAP) for mental health resources, Goehner recommended. Appio said if you try taking time off and distributing responsibilities and your burnout has not changed, or things are “going into crisis mode, and people are having thoughts of suicide and things like that, absolutely, it’s time to take a medical leave where that’s available.”
You can see if your employer sponsors short-term disability benefits. For example, the Family and Medical Leave Act makes unpaid, job-protected time off available to eligible employees.
Know that your job pays you but doesn’t own you.
Howes said that being unable to leave the job or change it to suit your needs is the worst possible scenario for professionals experiencing burnout.
In this case, he said: “All I can suggest is that you try to take pride in accomplishing a difficult task, feel good about earning money to take care of yourself and/or your loved ones, and snatch every moment you can to listen to your favorite song, build a connection with a co-worker, work on your stand-up routine material, fanfiction, learning French, or memorizing a poem, and remember that your job pays you for your time, your experience, your brain and sometimes your physical strength, but they have no claim on your spirit. There is always a part of you that is unique and all your own, and the boss can never have that.”