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Burned Out on the Job?

8 tips for recharging your batteries and learning to love where you are

Love your job

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Burnout is a reason why many people leave their jobs.

En español | Burnout is one of the biggest problems in the workplace, especially for older workers. In fact, it's a major reason many people retire earlier than they projected. They just can't take it anymore. They're sick of the routine, playing the game and not having an incentive to push ahead because promotions have dwindled or raises are perfunctory, if they exist at all.

But these are generally the peak earning years of your career. Staying on the job helps you continue making retirement account contributions and allows you to delay filing for Social Security benefits so you can qualify for a higher payout.

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With more people wanting — or needing — to work well past their 50s, generating new enthusiasm on the job is critical.

"We are rewriting the map of life," says Marc Freedman, the CEO of Encore.org, a nonprofit organization that's building a movement to tap the skills and experience of those in midlife and beyond. "In the past, if you were 56 or 57, it might be only a year or two before you were ready to slip into early retirement. Now you're thinking about another 10- or 15-year working career. That changes the entire equation."

Here's how you can reengage at your current job:

1. Seek out new duties

If you're constantly doing the same set of tasks each day, the monotony alone can drag you down. Step things up. Scrutinize your current position to pinpoint a new responsibility you can add that will refresh your focus, and maybe even scare you a bit. Ask to be assigned a signature project you've always wanted to launch, or volunteer for a new role. At this stage, it's easy to coast, but this is the time to try something different. Is there a special company initiative no one wants to take on? Raise your hand. Perhaps there's a job share available that would allow you to work for another department for a few months. If there's an employee out on leave, maybe you can fill that job in the interim.

2. Get up to speed

It's easy to become complacent about staying current with the trends in your field. Set up a Google Alert to notify you when your employer is in the news or when a competitor is making waves or beginning a new venture. Follow industry thought-leader blogs, join relevant groups on LinkedIn and participate in the discussion.

3. Connect with your coworkers

Subtle changes in your behavior each day can have a huge impact. Practice listening to and supporting your coworkers. Celebrate their successes. It'll make you feel good and build esprit de corps. Reach out to new colleagues, or those you don't know well, to grab lunch and learn about what they do and their backgrounds. Every so often, stop by someone's office to talk about something unrelated to work, or offer to grab an extra cup of coffee from the lunchroom, if you're headed that way, and drop it off at a colleague's desk. Instead of emailing a reply, have a face-to-face chat.

4. Fine-tune your relationship with a difficult boss

Lots of people quit their bosses, not their jobs. No matter how impossible your supervisor is, keep your side of the street clean. If your unhappiness with him or her affects your productivity, this will come back to bite you, not your boss. Most supervisors do want you to succeed; this reflects on their performance, too. You might just need to gently show your boss, by demonstrating that you're engaged in your job, how you can help each other.

5. Find joy around the edges

Many companies provide the opportunity to do volunteer work right within the organization. Find a volunteer gig that can help build relationships with coworkers (even your boss) and forge bonds across departments that you might never have had otherwise. Get involved with a mentoring program. Participate in employee activities. Join or organize a company team sport. Or create a walking, biking or running group.

6. Clean up your office

When people feel sapped of energy, often they're not clearing out as they go. Their in-box is overflowing. Their desk is a disaster. Their file drawers are bursting. Decluttering is liberating and empowering. You're saying, "This is valuable; this is not." It's a physical way to be involved in making decisions about your life and what you want to do with it.

7. Be happy in your work

A recent Gallup poll found that the more that employees use their strengths at work and are engaged in their jobs, the happier and more enthusiastic they are. You'll discover that your enthusiasm will not only trickle down to the quality of your work but that people will want to have what you have. You'll be the one they seek to have on their team. To quote Maya Angelou, "If you don't like something, change it. If you can't change it, change your attitude."

8. Upgrade your skills

This is especially true with new technology. Learn what computer programs your employer values, and take a class or a refresher course at your community college. Nearly 60 percent of U.S. colleges and universities let older students enroll in classes either tuition-free or at rock-bottom prices. And don't forget your employer. Ask if you can participate in a workplace workshop or training program. That hands-on approach can open doors to a promotion or lateral move. But more than that, it can ramp up your enthusiasm for your job and push it in new directions. Boredom is often at the root of unhappiness at work. If you persistently add worth to what you bring to the job, chances are your boss will notice and reward you for it, and that can do wonders for your attitude.

This feature was adapted from Love Your Job: The New Rules for Career Happiness by AARP jobs expert Kerry Hannon.

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