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No. 161 – I’m very well-paid, but totally burnt out. What should I do?

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26 June 2024

Each week, Dr Kirstin Ferguson tackles questions on the workplace, career and leadership in her advice column “Got a Minute?” This week: dealing with burnout, the uncertainty around asking for a pay rise, and a pushing back on workplace ‘shutdowns’.

I am a middle-aged male and not ready for retirement. I have worked as a senior executive for a large company for almost a decade. The job is stressful – I have aggressive KPIs and supervise many staff members. I cannot do it any more. It impacts my health, but I am very well-paid. I have been offered a simpler role with a similar remuneration package, which I have accepted. My current role has burnt me out so much and I am honestly worried I am too broken for another organisation. I have even considered asking my GP for a referral to a therapist. I would appreciate any suggestions you can provide.

I am sorry to hear you have been experiencing this situation, and I am so glad you have taken steps to improve your health and wellbeing. You are certainly not alone; a recent report found 44 per cent of Australian workers are dealing with burnout, and 6 per cent report being completely burnt out.

I wonder whether you might be able to find a way to give yourself a bit more time to regroup and start to feel yourself again before starting in your new position. First, I would strongly recommend you speak to your GP and a therapist. Both will assist you in different ways as you build up your strength after such a bruising period. Second, if you can negotiate it with your new employer, a decent break before you start the new role will make an enormous difference. It sounds like your battery is well and truly depleted and the only way you will be able to find that motivation and put yourself in the best position to succeed in your new role is to get yourself back to full strength. Do take care and all the very best.

I work for a medium-sized private company. I want to ask for a pay rise, but I have no idea how much my colleagues or those one level up from me earn, so I don’t know what is a reasonable expectation. I also don’t want to ask people directly what they earn. Management, of course, knows exactly how much everyone is being paid and so seems to hold all the cards. Can you suggest an approach here?

It is always hard to ask for a pay rise, especially if you don’t have a plan. First, I think you need to note in your own mind (and take to the meeting) all the ways you add value to the company through your role, and beyond.

Second, gather as much data as you can. Using websites like Glassdoor, jobs ads on Seek, or something like Hays Salary Checker you can discover what comparable roles are paid. Then, when you do speak with your boss, ask what they would like to see from you to receive more responsibility and more pay. You can also ask how salaries are set. For example, do they have pay bands in place? If so, ask what you need to do to move up a pay band.

My workplace shuts down over Christmas every year and everyone takes annual leave. Now they are adding more ‘shutdowns’ throughout the year, like the day between Anzac Day and the weekend. Everyone is expected to take leave on these days. I worry all these shutdowns will leave me with few leave days left to plan proper holidays. Do you think this is legal? Ethical? Any advice on if I could push back constructively?

It does seem a bit rough if even a quarter of your annual leave is forced to be taken on certain days of the year, especially if you want to make other plans. If you are on an Award wage, the Fair Work Commission made significant changes last year which means employers don’t have the same powers to direct employees to take annual leave. If you are employed under a workplace agreement, that will determine what is allowed.

Regardless of whether you are on an Award or not, employers can only require you to do what is reasonable. If your employer is asking you to use half your annual leave on shutdowns over the year, this may not be considered reasonable. Christmas and New Year shutdowns, on their own, are considered reasonable. You seem to fall somewhere in between, so I would contact the Fair Work Ombudsman to see what they think.

To submit a question about work, careers or leadership, visit (you will not be asked to provide your name or any identifying information. Letters may be edited).

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