I’m burned out, what should I do?
Feeling stressed and overwhelmed from work isn’t uncommon. We’ve all had to deal with work-related stress at some point in our lives. After all, many leaders today must juggle multiple responsibilities and commitments in the workplace. But what happens when this work-related stress is consistent and doesn’t go away?
What is burnout?
Burnout is a state of prolonged emotional, physical and mental exhaustion that often reduces one’s sense of accomplishment. Burnout can also affect how someone perceives themselves. McKinsey & Company describes burnout as “the feeling of depletion, cynicism, and emotional distance that results from a lack of impact or autonomy at work.” In a global survey, McKinsey conducted between February and April 2022, 1 in 4 employees surveyed across various demographics in 15 countries reported experiencing symptoms of burnout. Job burnout can come from various factors, including a lack of control over your schedule or workload, unclear job expectations, working long hours, insufficient social support and dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Burnout can lead to serious physical and mental health problems. Therefore, it is important to recognize the signs of burnout and take proactive actions to prevent it.
Some possible signs and symptoms of burnout include feeling constantly tired, even if you had a good night’s sleep. Feelings of sadness, anger, and irritability can also indicate your burning out. Additionally, having difficulty concentrating on your work and feeling a lack of satisfaction from your achievements may be a sign of burnout. When we feel detached from our work and loved ones and withdraw socially, we could be experiencing burnout. Sometimes, burnout can manifest physically in unexplained headaches, stomachaches or other physical symptoms.
How do I manage burnout?
Many leaders have experienced burnout because of the high demands of their positions, which is why it’s so important that we know how to manage burnout. When we take care of ourselves and our well-being, we can better help our team members through these stressors and feelings. With the right resources and strategies, we can manage burnout. Researchers Kelly P. Gabriel and Herman Aguinis from The University of George Washington found five recommendations that can help organizations combat burnout, especially in a post-COVID-19 world:
- Provide stress management interventions
Evidence shows that stress management interventions such as cognitive-behavioural training and mindfulness meditation groups can help employees adapt to stressful situations and mitigate emotional exhaustion. It’s important to note that when used alone, stress management interventions can cause unintended negative consequences. This is why leaders need to address the root causes of burnout holistically and not simply find a temporary fix.
- Allow employees to be crafters of their work
Giving employees autonomy and flexibility to negotiate job content can help employees feel trusted and valued. Leaders should encourage employees to take a proactive role in their work. Providing skill and task variety can also enhance employee motivation and self-efficacy.
- Cultivate and encourage social support
Reducing stressful and unnecessary interactions whenever possible is an empathetic way to foster genuine relationships because you show your team members that you care about their wellbeing. Encouraging social support from non-work family, friends, and community is another way you can cultivate an environment that values wellness.
- Engage employees in decision-making
Leaders should be transparent about decisions and engage employees in their decision-making processes. This open communication ensures leaders know what their team members need to thrive in their roles while providing employees an outlet for their voices to be heard.
- Implement high-quality performance management
Strength-based feedback that is timely, frequent and specific can effectively prevent and combat burnout. Clear, actionable feedback that empowers employees and improves productivity can help them feel more motivated to continue leveraging their strengths.
How do I prevent burnout in my team?
Social psychologist and professor from the University of Berkeley, Dr. Christina Maslach, shares how “for burnout, fairness might be the issue” rather than workload. When people feel micromanaged, mistreated, or undervalued, it can cause them to feel negatively about their work. This is why it’s so important for leaders to identify potential stressors early on and develop a plan to address them with your team. Effective leaders who emphasize a human-centred approach to leadership understand how team success is dependent on individual success. When people feel valued and respected, they’re more likely to share their experiences and opinions and contribute to a healthier workplace environment. Burnout prevention starts with taking care of your mind and body. You can prioritize your physical and mental health by exercising consistently, eating a well-balanced diet, and practicing good sleep habits. When we take care of our bodies, we’ll feel more energized to nurture our minds through practices such as journaling or mindfulness meditation.
Encouraging open communication is also essential in ensuring your team members feel comfortable coming to you with any concerns. Allowing your team members flexibility in completing their work will show them that you trust them. When it comes to a human-centred approach to leadership, trust is vital in fostering a psychologically safe environment. Remember to set realistic expectations and ensure the workloads we assign to our teams are attainable. When we are spread too thin, the quality of the work we produce lowers, and we feel mentally drained. Moreover, if team members feel like the goals they’re told to aim for are nearly impossible to reach, they can become unmotivated. Helping your team members understand how they contribute value to the organization’s success can help them find meaning in their work.
While there’s no magical solution to preventing burnout, you can proactively create a workplace environment that is healthy and sustainable for your team. And remember, you don’t have to do it alone.