Burnout is the term used to describe an occupational syndrome that occurs as the result of exposure to chronic stress that has not been successfully managed. It shows up as a triad of complete exhaustion, both physical, mental, emotional and cognitive, cynicism and negativity towards others and yourself, and a drop in self-efficacy.
These symptoms are hardly surprising if you haven’t got the energy to be bothered about anything, you’ve stopped caring and you’re thinking, “There’s no point.”
Burnout is a spectrum. It is also an equal opportunity employer – no one is immune to the harmful effects that excess stress can wreak on your health and wellbeing.
Burnout is not a one-size-fits-all either. No two people experience burnout in the same way, just as no two people experience stress in the same way.
What stresses you out, may not cause your colleague to bat an eyelid.
So, what differentiates between those who fall foul of the scourge of burnout and those who don’t, and how can that help you stay safe?
Know your limits.
It’s time to stop treating ourselves as machines and seek to optimise not maximise performance. Sustainable high performance is all about recognising when you’ve done enough.
We all have a finite amount of energy and capacity to think and work well each day. Knowing that you do best by keeping your working hours to 8 hours rather than 10, will work to keep your stress and fatigue levels in the tolerable zone.
If you’re struggling every day, battling to get through the mountain of work on your desk, that’s stressful, and over time it’s that accumulated stress that grinds you down.
It’s a fallacy to think that by staying late or taking work home you’ll be able to get on top of everything and be better prepared for tomorrow.
If only that were true.
But overworking is a signal. You’ve got too much on your plate and unless this is addressed, you’re setting yourself up to be at higher risk of burnout.
If you know people who tell you they are doing the jobs of two people, that is a huge red flag.
That might be acceptable for a couple of days.
But if that turns out to be weeks, months or a permanent expectation, that’s a no-no.
Being subjected to prolonged levels of high stress doesn’t just cause burnout; it shortens lives through death from heart attack, stroke or suicide. They call it karoshi in Japan.
No one should die from working too hard.
Do you know what your limits are?
Have you been able to negotiate with your employer a way to reduce your workload if it’s too high?
Do you know where to draw the line? (Only you know the answer to that.)
Your employer has a duty of care to keep you safe and you have a duty to yourself to avoid overworking. Workaholism and work addiction are real. I know this to be true because I have battled this myself.
Avoid unproductive busyness.
It’s those days where you’re haring around chasing your own tail and other people’s as well. You’re fending off multiple demands for “a moment of your time” when you don’t have time to go to the bathroom. You’re horribly conscious that your boss is expecting your report to be ready for him to take to the Board this afternoon and it’s nowhere near finished. You’re getting reminders for the meetings you are required to attend even though you know they are going to be a complete waste of your time.
It’s way past going home time, you’re exhausted, and you don’t feel as if you’ve achieved anything useful today.
One of the biggest issues for many of us is poor job design. We do things in a way we were taught or picked up for ourselves. Too many competing demands on your attention create cognitive fatigue. Your brain is experiencing attention fatigue, and your stress levels are switched to overload. You’re operating in a state of perpetual fear and anxiety.
It’s time to stop, to press pause and consider.
“How is how I work affecting me as a human being?”
While it can be nice to feel busy and that you’re doing something useful, unproductive busyness doesn’t feel this way. It’s exhausting, demoralising, and leaves you without any space for the fun things in life or work.
It’s said that work is good for us, and that’s true when the work is good, we’re good at what we do and we enjoy it.
But the way we work has changed out of sight over the last few years, and the global pandemic accelerated that change.
Meaning we must change too and adapt to a better way of working that enables us to flourish.
Have you made changes to how you work?
How does your work make you feel?
How has your workplace adapted to provide a workplace environment that supports greater efficiency and space to think?
Make sustainable high-performance a joint venture.
It’s said that two heads are better than one and it’s true. Sharing insights, ideas and information accelerates learning and innovation.
And it reduces stress because you’re no longer battling the unknown alone. Safety in numbers is an evolutionary advantage that continues to serve us well today.
Working well with others makes work more enjoyable. The work feels easier, and the emotional support provided raises coping skills, resilience and wellbeing. You’re mentally fit and at lower risk of burnout. Now it’s easier to take a smart risk because that fear of failure is reduced.
Great teamwork not only feels more motivating, but you’re also more excited to succeed, and you gain growth at a personal and professional level.
What’s not to love about being part of an amazing team?
Do you have a great support team at work?
Do you have someone you can always talk to when needed?
How has working in a team helped you achieve greater sustainable high performance?
Burnout is not on anyone’s vision board, and it is preventable.
What have you found helpful to keep yourself safe from burning out?
Dr Jenny Brockis is a board-certified lifestyle medicine physician, keynote speaker, trainer, coach and best-selling author. Her new book Thriving Mind: How to Cultivate a Good Life (Wiley) is available for purchase.
If psychological safety, burnout prevention and mental wellbeing is something you’d like to find out more about, please contact me to set up a time for a chat.