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Why unemployed workers are so burnt out

(Image credit: Getty Images)

In the wake of layoffs, many workers are searching for new roles. The process can be arduous and take a toll.

Employees are burnt out. Data and anecdotes alike throughout the past several years show that the volatile job market, mass headcount reductions, budget cuts and hiring freezes are taking a toll on workers, especially younger employees. But this isn’t the whole story: people who are out of work and actively searching for jobs are burnt out, too. Many of these jobseekers face a frustrating, time-consuming cycle of submitting applications, to no avail. They spend time networking, CV and cover-letter writing, interviewing, following up and getting their hopes up – only for companies to send a curt rejection, or not reply at all. Then, they must start the process again. Researchers for LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index recently surveyed more than 30,000 US professionals about how confident they felt about their prospects of keeping or finding a job, on a scale that ranges from +100 (most confident) to -100 (gloomiest). For workers actively seeking jobs, the overall response in January 2023 was +36. In May, it slipped to +27. Irina Gonzalez, 37, can attest to the struggle. In January, she found herself out of a job as part a wave of layoffs at the digital media property where she was an editor. She received roughly a month’s severance, and luckily found a new role right away. But that opportunity didn’t work out. She was, once again, out of work.

Gonzalez says unemployment put her in a financially tenuous place. Along with the stress of being jobless, she says she felt bitter and upset. And even though she needed to start job searching again, Gonzalez felt too burnt out to dive in. “I got to a place where I was saving dozens of job postings on LinkedIn every day, and just could not fathom applying. I kept trying to get out of bed and do something … but nothing was working. Nothing was making me get up. It was awful.”

I kept trying to get out of bed and do something … but nothing was working. Nothing was making me get up – Irina Gonzalez

When she did find some strength to push through, she’d force herself to write tailored cover letters. Gonzalez’s approach was to spend an hour on letters for jobs she “liked”, and up to three hours on letters for a job she “loved”. But despite the amount of work – and feeling like she was a great match for many of the roles – when she landed interviews, sent many follow-up emails and even completed skills tests, she says prospective employers often ghosted her. According to John Dooney, HR knowledge advisor at the Society for Human Resource Management (Shrm), the average amount of time it takes to find a job in 2023 is five months, although it varies depending on the demand for a worker’s skillset. In industries with less demand, workers can face an even longer process. Dublin-based Basant Shenouda, 26, spent three emotional years on a job search that left her very burnt out. She started job searching during her last year in university as an international student in Germany. Following a full year of rejections from major tech companies in 2018, Shenouda took a step back and took another internship post-graduation for experience. She secured a job offer right before the start of the pandemic in 2020 – but her offer was postponed eight months, with the risk of possibly being revoked amid layoffs. Her job search has a happy ending – in 2021, she finally started what she calls a “dream job”. But it took a significant amount of effort and strife to get there. “My ‘job-searching burnout’ was caused by the sheer level of time it took me to get employed and the different circumstances that kept happening: visa sponsorship rejection, lack of experience rejections, the pandemic,” she says. “I was incredibly frustrated and scared. As someone on a short-term visa in Germany, I was at risk of being deported during the pandemic. Being unemployed also led me to being evicted. It was the most stressful time in my life because of the high stakes and uncertainty of it all, especially for a 22-year-old new grad in a foreign country.”

Some jobseekers report low morale and even depression from looking for jobs to no avail (Credit: Getty Images)

The years-long ordeal also dampend her career confidence. Shenouda remembers feeling positive and excited when she first began applying for tech jobs. However, as the search dragged on, and she found herself applying to at least five roles per week, she became increasingly “upset and not optimistic about my career. I was never really able to take a break from job searching across those three years because there was so much at stake”.

Her low point, she says, was when a company put her through six rounds of interviews throughout four months, only to tell her via a form message that she did not get the job. “I felt really lost and vulnerable by how I couldn’t seem to catch a break … My mental health completely plummeted. I was very depressed. I lost weight from the pressure.”

Vicki Salemi, a New York-based careers expert at jobs site Monster, says many workers may have to augment the way they’re thinking about their career paths as a result of increasingly tough labour-market conditions. She says the “Plan A” for workers may be a full-time, salaried job with benefits; but jobseekers may also need to consider “a part-time, hourly job to keep your skills sharp, earn some money, make some contacts, get you out of the house and stay engaged”.

She suggests there may be ways to alleviate the burnout burden by creating a daily routine and setting a designated time each day for setting up job alerts, spending time applying for jobs and sending out emails. The process is still time consuming, but for workers who are suffering, she says it can help to “incorporate the job search and networking conversations into your day, but don’t make it your entire day”.

Gonzalez, who now runs the Substack newsletter Raising Gen Alpha, has realised getting through this kind of burnout takes time. Without having yet secured a full-time position, she’s had to pivot to freelance work – though she still glances at job postings. The stress is dragging on, she says. “It's upsetting and really shakes me, making me unable to do much for days.”

Shenouda wishes she’d taken better care of herself during that period, and is still working through the repercussions of her three-year-long job search. “Although the most important thing at the time was to survive, I wish I didn’t let it become all-consuming, and that I took the time to process my emotions, journal and meditate,” she says.

Things may get better, says Dooney. Even as companies are still re-evaluating and restructuring their workforces after the hiring sprees of 2021 and 2022, employers are still adding jobs in many countries, he points out. Unfortunately, however, for many workers, the job market is still tenuous amid an uncertain economy.

The reality is that it may still take time for jobseekers to secure a role. However difficult, Salemi recommends workers do their best to protect and prioritise their health, and be as patient as possible – especially as recruiters are especially inundated with applications right now.



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