At the time, Soundara, 37, had been working nonstop during the pandemic as a product marketer. Her social life dwindled as she sheltered in place and much of her friend group moved away from New York City. Meanwhile, she worked furiously while her small company prepared to go public: "I went into overdrive with work," she tells CNBC Make It.
She realized it was time to take action after a sobering conversation with her doctor.
"When she asked me how I was doing, I had a complete meltdown," Soundara says. "She said something along the lines of, 'your job is sucking the life out of you,' and that if I continued down the same route, it would take a toll mentally and physically."
'When I finally put in my notice, I had a sense of relief'
Looking back, "my burnout was caused by my job dissatisfaction," Soundara says.
She started to question how and why things were getting done. She felt disillusioned by the company's fervor to go public during a health crises. The team she managed was given increasingly aggressive deadlines, and she felt set up to fail.
"I don't mind working hard if I understand the goals I'm achieving and there's meaning to my work," she says. "But it was becoming a hamster wheel of just doing things, coupled with overwork."
She started planning her exit in April and gave notice to her boss in June. HR offered for her to take medical leave, but Soundara felt coming back to the same environment of overwork wouldn't do her any good.
Quitting was a release: "I was holding on to a lot: anger, resentment, anxiety, physical and mental exhaustion," she says. "When I finally put in my notice, I had a sense of relief that I was now on a new journey to focus on myself."
How she's avoiding walking into another 'dumpster fire'
After she quit her job, Soundara lived off her savings and traveled to Hawaii and throughout Europe for a few months. But she knew she couldn't simply vacation away her problems.
"You still have to deal with the root causes of your mental health issues," she says. As she planned for her return to New York and the workforce in 2022, "I had to start thinking deeper in terms of what I really want for myself."
With this in mind, one of the biggest things Soundara, who is Asian American, feels empowered to discuss in her job search is how companies prioritize issues of diversity, equity and inclusion within their workforce.
As she takes job interviews, she comes ready to ask: "Does the company have a DEI program? Are they intentional about hiring people from underrepresented groups? Are there programs for employees of different underrepresented groups?"
And as a manager, she also asks how the company supports employee wellness and mental health, as well as what systems they have in place to routinely gather employee feedback about how the workplace can be better. "I want to foster an environment where people feel comfortable asking for personal time, and they can tell me if something isn't working and how we should reconsider," she says.
She tries to be "realistic" and understands there's no such thing as a "perfect" company culture. Still, asking these questions can shed light on whether companies are taking accountability and trying to improve: "The company needs to come to the table with an honest answer of: 'We know we're not perfect. These are the gaps we have. And we're working on it.'"
Ultimately, Soundara says, "what I really need to know is: Am I walking into another dumpster fire?"
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