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- Feeling unhappy and burned out at work is common — especially nowadays.
- Quitting your job is one solution. But the career expert Laurie Ruettimann suggests slacking.
- Backing off 10-20% from your usual work ethic will help preserve your mental health, she said.
Unhappy at work? Feeling burned out? There's a lot of that going around right now. And while quitting seems to be the solution for many (43 million last year to be exact), there's another potential answer, according to Laurie Ruettimann, a former HR exec turned author and consultant.
When was the last time you tried slacking off?
"If you're always working on the terms of your company, you're always going to suffer," said Ruettimann, the author of, "Betting On You: How to Put Yourself First and (Finally) Take Control of Your Career," which is out in paperback this month. "But if you work on your own terms, you'll get context, perspective, and meaning."
Her recommendation is somewhat unusual in the realm of career advice, most of which consists of figuring out new and different ways of channeling more of your energy into your job. And in the US, where there's practically a moral imperative not only to work hard and work a lot but also to love what you do, the very idea of shirking is sacrilege.
'No one has your back except for you'
Ruettimann does not recommend completely loafing on the job and ignoring your boss's requests. Rather, she advises backing off 10-20% from your usual work ethic.
A self-described "cynical, skeptical, late Gen Xer," who grew up on slacker cult movies like "The Breakfast Club," Ruettimann, 47, said that embracing slackerism is critical to preserving your sanity and health in today's gung-ho, go-getter workplace.
HR does not exist to protect workers; its job is to protect the company, she said. "You need to be your own HR because no one has your back except for you."
According to Ruettimann, many of us could benefit from decoupling our identities from our jobs. "Your job is worthy of your hard work and integrity, but when you're off the clock, you're off the clock," she said. "You are not your job."
How does this look in practice? Ruettimann advised acting as though you run your own business and your employer is your best client.
Say your boss asks you to spearhead a big project with a tight and fast-approaching deadline. But you're already swamped with your existing workload, and you have pressing personal obligations that require your attention. Don't automatically acquiesce.
Instead, ask yourself a series of clarifying questions: Is this project really as important as my boss thinks it is? How many hours can I afford to dedicate to it? How can I say yes to parts of this project and no to others? Your answers will help determine how much you can and should reasonably commit to the request.
Slacking also entails taking all the paid time off you're entitled to and adhering to the rule of not checking your email while you're away. It requires taking days off to guard your mental health — even when you're in the middle of a big project — and turning down "growth" opportunities at work because you're already busy or you simply don't want to do them.
It could also mean saying no to coming back to the office in person if it jeopardizes your mental health or the health of someone you care for.
Slacking is not career suicide, she insisted. And, in fact, it can offer a professional boost. Research shows that rest is critical to creativity and that having autonomy over your workday is key to your job satisfaction and productivity. "The main problem of overinvesting in your job is that you underinvest in your personal life and your individual well-being," she said.
"If you're giving and giving and you're unhappy, you need to reclaim a bit of your autonomy and time. Your employer is not going to notice."
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