If the statistics are to be believed, there are more people in the workforce dealing with burnout in some form than not. If 70% is the reality, we have a massive problem on our hands requiring immediate action, because that number is still increasing.
What I found most strange on reflection of my own run-in with burnout, was that no one used the “B” word in front of me. When I found myself collapsed on the floor of an osteopath’s office, I thought I was probably just a bit more tired and stressed than I thought I was. I was so used to always feeling exhausted, always anxious to ensure my patients were getting the very best of care, always caring deeply about what others thought of my medical practice, always seeking to ensure my staff, my associate doctors, my kids, and my husband.
There was always a myriad of things to worry about.
There was a long weekend coming up. The perfect time to rest, restore and be back fresh as a daisy at work on Tuesday.
Except that never happened. I didn’t know it at the time, but I would never work as a GP again and I lost my business that I had carefully nurtured and loved for many years.
I recovered, but the lessons learned, and the ensuing personal and professional growth taught me so much about what had contributed to my own experience of burnout and what might have prevented it from happening in the first place.
Because burnout is preventable.
There is absolutely no justification for putting up with the appalling level of burnout being experienced in our modern workplace.
Burnout is a complex, multifaceted occupational syndrome. There is no single cause and no single pathway to recovery.
BUT what is understood is that it is frequently the culture of a workplace that can heighten risk, along with knowing that while is not an individual’s fault – they are not lacking in some way, or mentally ill, traits such as perfectionism, big ambition, entrepreneurship, over-commitment, over caring, high expectations and workaholism play a role.
Here is my letter.
At long last you’ve realised your dream, to open and run your own group medical practice and on your own terms.
How exciting. I’m sure you’re very proud of this achievement and so you should be. It’s been a long hard road to get here.
I hope you will take a moment now to stop and celebrate and share your deep gratitude and appreciation to everyone who has helped you make this happen, especially to your husband who has stood by your side, unwavering in his support and belief for your success.
I know you find it hard to accept positive or public acknowledgment of the good you do. But please be gracious in accepting these gifts. Others care deeply about you. Dismissing them because you don’t believe you deserve the praise, or believe you’ve done enough hurts the givers as well as yourself.
Taking control of the reins of a new business will demand even more from you. While I understand you want to maintain control to preserve the very high standards you set for yourself and expect others to follow, remember, everyone also has their own needs and agenda. Please don’t expect everyone to accept or agree to be like you. Getting frustrated at seeing your employees take their leave, or request time off when you know they know you haven’t had any time off yourself is not their fault. If they don’t wish to work weekends or provide evening surgeries, and you feel compelled to fill that gap, ask yourself, what of your family who want you home more often?
Please find someone, a confidante, or mentor you can confide in. Someone who understands the vagaries of medical practice and understands the constant demand of being of service, of creating sufficient income to pay your overheads and have a life outside medicine. I appreciate you like being the lone warrior, fiercely independent and reluctant to be a burden to anyone. I know you signed up for this challenging path, but please don’t believe that your self-sacrifice is ever going to be worth the price of your commercial success. The world needs you to be in the best shape possible, to do your best work.
I know how much you care about your work, but please remember to try and care a bit about yourself too. If you’ve noticed that you’re not your usual self, that your sleep pattern is disturbed, that you ‘ve lost your appetite and especially that you seem to have lost you passion for your work, what would you say to this person, if they were one of your patients? Showing yourself some kindness and compassion doesn’t mean you’ve failed.
Lastly, I wanted to remind you of your other qualities and passions. Where is the girl who loved travel and exploring the world. Where is the woman who loved books, writing and art?
What happened to your fascination for nature and the flora and fauna of the natural world? These gifts are also worthy of your attention. Work is only one facet. Your wellbeing extends far beyond the realms of work, so let go, play more and be happy.
Wishing you all the best for your future.
Burnout is such a waste of human potential.
Every industry, organisation or association is different. But what is common to every workplace are the humans who work there who share the same fundamental needs to flourish.
Encouragement, support, and connection can make the biggest difference to how you feel about your work. When you feel appreciated, respected, and valued it’s easier to handle the daily challenges. Your stress stays in the healthy zone, enabling you to step up to a challenge, to learn new skills and demonstrate your abilities.
My biggest lesson was the need to reinstate boundaries to separate work from the other domains of my life and to honour my non-negotiables, those people and activities that fill my soul with joy and connect me to my higher purpose.
From here my mission is to nudge mindsets and beliefs around what contributes to a positive work experience and to encourage the implementation of healthy workplace practices and processes. I’d love you to join me in this.
If burnout is rampant in your workplace, what have you seen being done to reduce its impact and prevent it from happening?
I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Dr Jenny Brockis is a medical practitioner and board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is now available for purchase.