This week, the founder and CEO of Bumble, Whitney Wolfe Heard announced a week long closure as she intuited staff were exhausted after the rapid rise of the dating app and the last 28 months of stress of living through a pandemic. I was invited onto the Lynette Fay Radio Show to discuss burnout and how we and our employers can tackle this issue (interview is 35 minutes in).
The danger of burnout is a drum I’ve been banging for over 10 years having coached teams on the cusp of burnout in the corporate world. Thankfully, businesses have started introducing well-being initiatives and normalising talk about pressure and stress.
The term burnout was first coined by Herbert J Freudenberger in his book Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. And he sums it up succinctly here.
“If you have ever seen a building that has been burned out, you know it’s a devastating sight. What had once been a throbbing, vital structure is now deserted. Where there had once been activity, there are now only crumbling reminders of energy and life. Some bricks or concrete may be left; some outline of windows. Indeed, the outer shell may seem almost intact. Only if you venture inside will you be struck by the full force of the desolation. “
The World Health Organization have officially classified burnout as a medical diagnosis, describing burnout as, “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Many people work long hours, sometimes to an excessive level and never suffer any hint of burnout. It’s more than “working too hard”. It’s serious, and it has consequences for your career and more importantly mental health. A temporary high level of stress brought on by a project or goal at work is manageable. But, when high stress levels become part of your daily life for months on end it’s time to recognise the harm that it’s doing. When stress becomes absolute burnout it moves from “too much pressure” to “I’m not enough”.
With an increased amount of home working there is a risk that it will become a regular problem for far too many people. Burnout is much more common in people who expect too much of themselves, find themselves in the wrong job or feel inadequate. It’s also much more common in workplaces where employees are not valued and appreciated and where workloads and demands are excessive. This is why recognising it and dealing with it is the responsibility of the employee and the employer in equal measure.
Some of the key signs of burnout are:
- Fatigue and lack of energy
- Lack of motivation
- Utter dread of going to work each day
- Increased errors and frustration
- Headaches and muscle pain
Aside from generally being unhappy at work or being absent, this can in serious cases, lead to depression and self medication with alcohol.
Ignoring the tell tale signs of burnout can be easy if we lie to ourselves “I’m fine, I’ll get take a week off and be ok” is a common masking strategy. Similarly, an employer can hide behind the mantra of “we work hard this is who we are”. None of this makes the issues go away and the certainly don’t make the individual or business more productive.
So what can you do to put out the fire before it gets out of control?
- Communicate . Your manager won’t be able to address the issue unless you tell them, but equally it should be your manager’s and the companies responsibility to normalise conversations about pressure, priorities, and workload. It is important that you both set realistic goals for what you are working on.
- Ask for help. Workmates, friends and family (and career coaches) can all be a great source of support. Call on them. Most people will not realise you need it because you are a strong person, and we can forget that strong people can take on too much. Also, make use of any mental health resources or assistance your employer offers. I’ve sought counselling when things have felt too much and it has really helped.
- Take your time off! It’s very common to put off taking annual leave because of what you have on your plate but you MUST use your allocated time off. You don’t win awards for being a martyr to your career. Our worlds became very small during lockdown and it was easy to shut out what’s best for us. When we make time for ourselves and some simple techniques we can massively our mental fitness and with it our resilience and energy. Take a day or week after a big deadline, that will help you recharge. Plus you should be celebrating what you’ve achieved!
- Set boundaries and finish work on time. This is particularly important if you are working from home. Switch off and enjoy your home life properly. If your employer is crossing the line too much tell them. If that is too difficult to do then maybe it’s time to re-evaluate where you work. Put on your out of office letting people know you’ll respond in working hours.
- Chill out a bit of downtime is good for the soul, especially if you make it social or fun. And of course get some exercise! Everything from yoga, a nice walk in the countryside or some gym time can be a excellent way of regularly defusing your stress levels. Time outdoors, and especially in a forest or by the sea, is great for you in every way.
- Get some sleep. You will operate at a much better level if you get quality shut eye.
- Embrace Mindfulness. Mindful moments throughout the day will recharge your batteries and give you perspective. Take a moment to tune into one of your senses or your breath. There are lots of apps to help you.
We quite rightly have spend the last few years hyper vigilant about our environment and physical health. Now it’s time to apply the same vigilance to your mental health in the workplace. You spend a huge amount of time working and you owe it to yourself and your family to keep the fire burning in the RIGHT way.