Beware of Burnout!

Beware of Burnout!

#burnout #burnoutrecovery #resilience #teamcommunication #responsibleleadership

“I feel empty and exhausted.”

“I love my job and I want to perform really well, I just feel that I am using up my last resources. What shall I do?”

Signs and impact of the burnout syndrome:

When clients arrive to the first session throwing in bluntly some of the above statements about their current condition, I quickly infer that we’ll have some work to do there. Their face is grey and their eyes are hollow, and they can hardly force out some polite smile, let alone any genuine expression of a real emotion.

A great problem with a mature, full-blown burnout is the sorrowful loss of productivity and the waste of the brilliance, wit and emotional richness of talents. All the excellent contribution that these people could give to their environment get blocked by their mental and emotional state of being burned out. Instead of high performing, motivating and energizing leaders, you get passive followers in robotic function mode or rather even worse, outright embittered obstructors that stand in the way of progress.

The WHO categorized burnout as a syndrome that results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.

There are 3 components of burnout:

· exhaustion – immense emotional, physical, and/or cognitive fatigue

· cynicism – low levels of job engagement, feelings of negativism

· inefficacy – lack of productivity and feelings of incompetence

Burnout can strike when you consistently have more work than you’re able to get done. But it can also happen when you feel a lack of control over your professional fate, when your personal values don’t match up with those of your company, or when you aren’t being recognized for your work.

While there is no doubt that the best response to burnout is to focus on fixing the workplace through improving workflow efficiency, teamwork and leadership rather than focusing on fixing the worker, I believe there is still some room for improvement on the individual level too. And there lies what we can start working on within a coaching session. The rest of it, namely the working environment hand in hand with the presumably toxic character of the company culture remain a massive organizational issue.

Indeed, truly assessing our own mental-, physical- and emotional condition is already a challenge. During the period running up to the burnout collapse one could easily be oblivious to the build-up of systemic risk. Though everything still seems to be all right, we feel that there are a bit too many things we have to deal with. We are inclined to entice ourselves and diminish the already emerged symptoms, which may also be partly due to just being passionate about our job and wanting to be recognized as a high-performer. Small mental or bodily signs of exhaustion get neglected thanks to the overload of tasks and responsibilities.

What a leader can do?

As a leader, there is a lot you can do about helping your team prevent, detect and alleviate burnout once it has surfaced. Stop for a moment and ask your colleagues the following questions referring to the previous couple of weeks:

  • How overwhelmed did you feel, on a scale of 1 to 5? (1 is lowest, 5 is highest)
  • How many days did you work later than you should?
  • How many days did you answer emails after hours?
  • How effective and productive did you feel, on a scale of 1 to 5?
  • How much fun did you have, on a scale of 1 to 5?

Should someone answer higher than 3 on the first three questions, and lower than 3 on the last two ones, there’s a risk for them for burning out or already being burnt out. What to do then?

First, have one-on-one talks with those who score around the risk zone and ask for more context to understand better what led to their condition.

Secondly, review your meetings!

  • Cancel those that are not essential.
  • Check if you can shorten the ones that remained, say from 60 to 45 min.
  • Decide in advance if it is necessary to turn on cameras. Remember, being on camera is definitely more exhausting than just leaning back in your chair or taking a walk while talking.
  • Use the meeting as a venue for appreciation and recognition of your colleagues. Search for the moments when you can do this in an unforced, natural, sincere way.

Thirdly, try out the exercise of setting small goals: tell your team about one small goal you’re hoping to accomplish during the week. Then list three barriers that might prevent you from moving forward, asking your team for advice on how to overcome them. Invite your employees to do the same: What’s one small goal they want to accomplish this week, and what are the barriers standing in the way? By keeping this an open (and voluntary) conversation within a safe space, the team can collectively solve each other’s problems and support each other. You can also make this activity a regular part of the weekly meeting.

Fourthly, you can also tackle the problem of team burnout as a group. Bring up the topic and discuss it together with your team. Sharing personal stories and experiences of what worked or what didn’t work for someone may add to team cohesion and strengthen belonging.

But how can you help your team with burnout when you’re also burned out?

Lead with example and answer honestly the above questions also yourself. Evaluate your results. Start practising with the below exercises and see how they improved your condition:

  • Making effort to balance passion for work and need for rest, and monitoring whether you got obsessed with overachievement;
  • Becoming aware of what activities can refill your mental and physical reserves and recurring to them regularly;
  • Determining whether your organization is moving forward in a direction that aligns with your core values;
  • Building a sense of meaningfulness into your everyday life through setting up small goals and tracking your progress;
  • Focusing on what is in your control.

And finally remember that stress in itself is not necessarily bad for you. In small doses it makes you grow and enhances your performance. The danger is when you are under chronic stress without recovery. You can stay resilient and endure hardship if you know how to recharge and replenish yourself.