Updated: Aug 25
Burnout is something we should all be wary of.
It’s a condition that slowly builds up over time if we aren’t careful, and results in constant tiredness, unhappiness, loss of motivation and a whole heap of other symptoms that can have major and lasting effects on our mental and physical health.
It’s important to recognize the warning signs early - and take measures to proactively combat stress before we reach burnout.
There are three main causes of burnout in the workplace:
Empathetic / caring burnout
If you’re a naturally empathetic, caring and helpful person and are in a position that requires you to care for others on a regular basis, you could be at risk. It may not be part of your job description (such as a nurse or social worker) but you may find people drawn to you as a listening ear or maybe use you as a ‘baggage drop.’
Caring for and helping people who don’t want to care for or help themselves
Caring for people with major, ongoing troubles that you see once, and never again
Feeling responsible for people’s response to their troubles
It can be hard to step back from people, but it’s important to see the line between the care and advice that you can provide for people, and the choices they make to care for themselves. Some people choose not to help themselves - and that is not something easily changed.
Looking objectively at someone’s actions after they see you/talk to you. If they come back to complain after not taking any advice or trying to make any changes, take a step back and let them know your support still stands but you’re not here to sympathise.
Write out some clear boundaries between your service/advice and their actions - be content to hand their troubles back to them and let them take the needed actions.
In situations where you only get a short time to help someone, do what you can within that time, try to set up support after you (eg. if they are moving to a different town) and know you’ve done what you can.
Don’t stop caring - your caring nature is probably what led you to your role and helps you be successful. But find an ‘off switch’ for outside of work and when that person is no longer under your care or in contact with you.
Energy / Adrenaline burnout
There’s so much to do, and you spend all hours doing these things. You’ve got work to do - and that includes things like housework and other domestic tasks.
Solopreneurs and business owners are often at risk of this. The buck stops with you - but the work doesn’t! You're constantly under the pump to get it all done - and you're constantly in a state of high alert.
A never-ending list that constantly builds and is impossible to get on top of.
Not having someone to shoulder the load so you can take a break without coming back to a mountain that will take months to become manageable again.
Having blurred boundaries between work/not work time - your personal number is your work number, your work creeps home with you on your laptop, people call you at all hours.
There are only so many hours in the day and only so much you can do! Each person has a different capacity - some are incredible at completing superhuman amounts of work, while others may find they cannot get as much done. This is ok - but it’s about knowing what your limits are.
Set boundaries for work and non work times. Communicate these to the people you work with and for, and remind yourself yourself! Be firm - it might take a while to develop the habit, but you (and everyone else) will adjust. If they don’t respect that - do you really want to do business with someone who has no respect for your time, health and wellbeing?
Ask. For. Help. It can mean outsourcing certain tasks, or getting someone else on board who can do at least some of what you can do (the training will be worth it.) Don’t forget your home life - teach kids simple chores, ask your partner to help, or even hire someone to keep on top of things once a week or have a spring clean working bee with friends.
Work out what tasks give you energy, and which drain you. Try and balance these if you can to get a mixture into one day.
Prioritize your tasks - and not into just what is most urgent now, but what will help you in the long run to work sustainably and grow.
Joy / Passion Burnout
If you need to be involved in a cause that aligns with your strong values, burnout can happen if your role doesn’t support this. This can also happen if your best talents are not utilized in your role - you don’t get the joy in doing what you do best, and your role only takes energy from you instead of giving some back.
You don’t agree with or believe in your organization’s mission or values
You’re in a position where you’ve taken this job ‘until something better comes along’ - but sometimes ‘something better’ is a long time coming!
You’re trying to draw on strengths that are not really yours and you question if you’re really suited to this role.
Not everyone is strongly led by their values - and that’s OK! But if you are, and are in a role that doesn’t mesh, things might get tough.
Looking into the company mission and values and ask “why?” Try and get into the deepest corner of those values and see if there is something that aligns with your values. Maybe this value has been lost or hidden over time - can you bring it back?
Try and help bring more values into the business - could you start a community or social enterprise initiative?
Investigate your job description and see if there’s a way you can incorporate more tasks that involve what you are best at, or if there’s a different role in the same organization that you could transition into.
What if it’s too late? What if you feel like you’ve been chewed up and spat out? It’s time to seriously consider where you are positioned. Can you keep going the way you are? Probably not. Try and take time to rest. Find a way to do what brings you joy. Consider what the root cause of your frustrations are, and look at how they can be eliminated, minimized or isolated.
You can come back from burnout, but it takes time and needs to be done intentionally.
Some general Burnout Prevention tips:
Exercise. Walk, bike, swim, hula hoop - it doesn’t matter what it is - just that you do it! Getting your heart-rate up helps your brain fight stress.
Eat well. Eat a mostly healthy diet to take the best care of yourself and help improve your mood and energy levels.
Sleep. Getting enough sleep has a huge effect on our stress levels. It’s not always easy to switch off your brain for the night when you’re stressed - but work on sleep techniques. Limit electronics before bed, take a bath, roll in a lavender patch, don’t stay up too late, help yourself sleep better.
Think positively. Our thoughts really do shape reality around us - it shows in how we react or respond to situations, and in the choices we make. Actively try to remove negative thought patterns to improve your health.
Do some of what you love - visit friends, pet a dog, hike, build a model airplane, stare at the ocean - take time to refuel yourself.
How do you manage stress? Are you confident you're able to care for yourself? Or are you struggling to keep afloat?