Cure for the wintertime blues

Job burnout can attack office workers at anytime, but it's a special hazard this time of year.

The post-holiday doldrums of January give a whole new meaning to "the winter of our discontent." We no longer look forward to the merry-making of Christmas and New Year's, and it's a long, long time until our next vacation. Colds and dreaded flu strike us down. It's dark when we go to work and it's dark when we come home. Business staggers along, but productivity lags as workers move in slow motion. Even indoors, it feels as if we should be wearing rubber boots.

During these gray days, it's easy to question the value and promise of your career. You may ask yourself: Does this job have any future? Are the salary and benefits worth the everyday hassle? Can I possibly march on this way, bored out of my skull, until retirement? How much time would I have to serve if I killed a few idiot customers?

To these questions, we say: Perk up, little buckaroos. Perhaps you're not really burned out. Maybe you've just got the winter blahs.

Fortunately, the remedy for the blahs and true burnout are the same. You must find ways to inject excitement into your workplace. Find ways to regain the hope and idealism you had when you first began your career. Find ways to liven up your workdays that do not involve manslaughter charges.

Here are some suggestions for giving a lifeless job a good goosing of renewal:

--Create new challenges. Maybe your job is too much of the same-old, same-old. Find creative ways to do familiar tasks. For example, try working with one hand tied behind your back. Or, see if you can get through an entire shift without speaking to anyone except in grunts and whistles. These techniques can jazz up a winter workday.

--Find a hobby. Just because you're at work doesn't mean you can't pursue an outside interest. Why do you think computers come pre-equipped with Solitaire? You can work on your stamp collection or do day-trading right at your desk, as long as you don't get caught. Amassing filched office supplies is an old favorite. If all else fails, there's always office gossip to keep things lively.

--Exercise. Blahs and burnout are closely linked to being cooped up indoors and not getting any exercise. Try taking walks through your office building. Keep up a brisk pace, so you look busy. It helps if you carry some important-looking papers. You can also do stretching exercises right at your desk, as long as you're quiet about it. A squeaky chair is considered grounds for justifiable homicide.

--Plan a vacation. Even if it's months away, a vacation gives you something to anticipate. Fantasizing about a sunny beach can keep winter from overwhelming you. You might even tape colorful brochures around your cubicle, so that your co-workers will envy and hate you.

--Two words: Funny hats.

--Socializing. Winter's the perfect time to touch base with friends old and new. You've got a phone right there on your desk. Just be prepared to pretend you're talking to a client if your boss suddenly appears. Your friends will understand. They're doing the same thing on their end.

--Go outside. A few minutes in the sleet will remind you that it's a blessing to work in a nice, warm office, no matter how bummed you might be about your job.

Better to burned out than frozen solid.

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