Why You Are Heading for Burnout
Finding your way back
Dr. Jeremy Sutton
Even before the craziness of the last 15 months, burnout was a real problem. In high-pressure working environments, employees all too easily become the shock absorbers, taking the organizational strain when things get tough.
“Burnout occurs when an individual experiences too much stress for a prolonged period,” says Dr. Susan Bruce, researching extreme exhaustion in educators. The person becomes less productive at work, but more importantly, exhausted emotionally, physically, and mentally.
Burnout in teachers impacts not only their own and their family’s lives but also the education of their students.
While in business, burnout impacts the bottom line. Exhausted staff lead to lower productivity, extra time off, and failing talent.
But how do we spot burnout early?
There are some clear indicators that should give employers early warning that there is trouble ahead.
- Are job demands exceeding human limits?
- Are staff experiencing a lack of control due to conflicting roles?
- Is there a perceived lack of support and recognition?
- Are feelings of imbalance and poor fit, leading to a sense of unfairness?
And the impact is considerable, affecting our:
- Feelings (anger, frustration)
- Physical health (weight gain, nausea, muscular aches)
- Emotional wellbeing (hopelessness, depression)
- Cognition (indecisiveness, poor concentration)
You don’t have to accept burnout as part of working life. It is not inevitable, and it is preventable.
Workload versus capacity must be kept in check. You need to look at your own and your staff’s ability to plan work, delegate tasks, let go of perfectionism, and turn round and say ‘no’.
Your sense of control, or feeling of autonomy, is crucial. If you are getting calls from your boss at the weekend or late at night, you may need to agree on your availability.
Community at work (and outside) can provide support both physically and emotionally. Forming strong bonds with those you work with can increase motivation and morale and help tensions diffuse.
Value mismatch is often overlooked. Do your values align with the organization you are a part of? If they don’t, it may be time to look for other opportunities.
Mental breaks are like micro vacations from stress. Stopping for a coffee with friends or picking up something to read (non-digital literature is better) creates that mental pause. Taking time to get out for a walk can restore your balance and bring a fresh perspective to a problem.
Looking after your body can be forgotten when stress is at its max. And yet, a good diet and regular exercise have been repeatedly shown to restore mental and cognitive balance.
While working from home has many benefits, the risk of burnout is substantial. There is a tendency to work longer hours with a reduced perception of the boundary between office and home life.
That last-minute, late-night email can create anxiety for the sender and the recipient. Instead, set up new boundaries and put in place fresh habits when working remotely:
- Wear something work appropriate
- Walk around the block to ‘go to work’
- Create a work schedule that suits you
- Put virtual coffee breaks in the calendar
- Schedule once a month in office or, even better, green space meet-ups with colleagues.
Burnout is a real problem, impacting our relationships and our physical and mental wellbeing.
Investing in our emotional and cognitive health should not be a second thought. Spotting the early signs of burnout and finding new strategies for not only surviving but flourishing improves your value as a friend, partner, and employee.
Dr. Jeremy Sutton
Psychologist and writer in Positive and Performance Psychology (www.positivepsychology.com). Exploring positive psychology and cognitive science to better understand human potential. Owner of the "Learning to Flourish" community dedicated to sharing the tools for wellbeing (link below).