This picture shows how I felt a year ago. I was hired by a client for an hourly rate. I kept a timesheet to state how I had spent the 40 hours of every week. 400 emails a week which I wanted to answer within a reasonable period of time, including last minute requests. All needed to be linked to an activity code in the timesheet. My week was stated in numbers and I motivated myself to spend the 40 hours as efficient as possible.
In my next assignment for a different client, this feeling was getting worse. I tried to structure my activities, but last minute changes and requests restricted me to do so. I had to drop everything, the last minute request had top priority. I had to work overtime, because of a deadline that was invented two days ago. Don’t get me wrong. There is nothing wrong with being flexible and having to adjust to new circumstances, but I’d like to keep ownership of my own schedule to some extend. Some might call me a control freak, I’d rather call it being autonomous.
My situation became worse and worse. The level of detail I had to account for: stating which document I was using for a task, in which folder it was uploaded, which version was used, and a detailed explanation of the changes made. It made me insecure, frustrated, and made me feel like my back was against the wall. I don’t need to be treated like a toddler that you need to keep an eye on. I’m not a robot that can be programmed to the finest detail to do something for a client. It took a lot of time and energy to explain every single detail. And off course I didn’t have activity code to link it to.
A few weeks later it became clear that I was on the verge of a significant burn-out. The phase before a burn-out is a tricky one. I couldn’t see myself and what I was doing in a realistic and objective way, for example in determining how much time I would need for a certain task. If I realised I was not going to make the deadline my first response was to work harder. This increases stress and will eventually lead to the worse state, a burn-out: emotionally exhausted, depersonalisation, and feeling like you are becoming less competent. Those weeks I was so tired, I had to use all my private time, including weekends, to recharge. One day I was afraid that I couldn’t make the 1.5 hour drive back home sometimes. I realised: this could not continue like this. I called in sick.
The first month after the diagnosis I was convinced I was strong enough to continue a 3 day work week. We agreed I would stay in contact with the lead consultant of the project. Capgemini even arranged for me to be free of charge for an entire month. No pressure, time to rest, recharge, and to some extend free to manage my own schedule. Sounds good.
However, the situation got worse. The last thing you should do to me, someone with burn-out symptoms, is to micro manage me. The client still wanted to know what I was doing every single minute, how many hours I exactly worked, where I was working, which version of documents I used, and what I changed in them. A dispute about a doctors appointing during business hours and what time I came into the office appeared to be too much. It drained all my energy, but was a wake up call. It hurt the most when the client stated that it was a service from them to let me work there. Did she forget I was free of charge the entire month? Did I not add any value? Was my presents a burden to them? After this discusion I thought: screw them! I was never going back there.
After this, I felt anger for a long time. I felt treated like a robot and that feels miserable. I asked myself, do I still want to be a consultant? I never want to be in a situation, where I am treated like this, again. In the end I dealt with this and turned it into my motto: people are not robots. You can’t programme them in the finest detail.