We can all experience burnout during our lifetime.
Whilst experiencing long term stress at work we can feel emotionally exhausted and have a sense of low personal achievement.
Our behaviour can become cynical or negative, our social functioning can be impaired, we can experience brain fog and our physical wellbeing may suffer.
This invariably leads to a lower level of effectiveness in the workplace.
What causes burnout?
We sometimes take too much on our shoulders, when starting a new job, for example.
We can work consistently long hours with not enough down time, never switching off.
This can lead on to feeling more stressed at work and having less time for activities and relationships outside of work.
Sometimes we may ignore the fact that we are gradually feeling more and more stressed.
As stress levels continue, we can then start feeling out of control of our workload and our performance decreases further.
We may procrastinate as our problem-solving skills are suffering.
Our thinking patterns may put us under more pressure, by:
- Expecting more of ourselves, making us more anxious
- Judging ourselves harshly
- Tightening the control we exert on ourselves, others and situations
- Avoiding the situation
- Moving without focus from one thing to the next
Ignoring emotions can be a part of this. Or, emotions may come to the fore and become hard to regulate – we may feel more anger or tearful for example.
As burnout intensifies, self-doubt increases and changes in behaviour may be noticed by others.
Ultimately, we can feel chronic sadness, mental and physical fatigue and depression.
What can help?
Taking the pressure off is important, once an issue is recognised.
Talking honestly and being supportive can help. But first of all, it’s important to create the conditions for a person to speak up.
The first step can be talking to just one person about this. It can be very difficult, but it starts the ball rolling.
It can be particularly tough for the CEO or senior leader affected by burnout to admit it, or to find the right support.
A trusted colleague or member of a peer group, inside or outside the organisation, or an independent executive coach, can be a really good starting point.
Through coaching, an individual can unload their thoughts about what’s happening to them and start to make sense of things.
They can recognise unhelpful patterns of thinking and behaviour and any beliefs that might be driving them, becoming more self-aware and resourceful.
They can think about new approaches that will help them take a constructive route towards their wellness.
Supportive, independent coaching can help an individual move towards greater resilience.
How can HR & leaders support employees experiencing burnout?
Creating a culture where employees feel supported and feel in control of their work, as well as having fair opportunities to grow, can help in avoiding burnout.
When an issue hits, the aim is to help people get back to being themselves, feel supported and to feel fulfilled and valued at work.
As well as reducing workload or levels of responsibility, leaders can:
- Promote work/life balance
- Refer the person for resilience coaching
- Encourage them to take time off
- Ensure work-related training is adequate
Above all – communication is key.
Keeping the human connections going helps us spot potential incidences of burnout, and possibly prevent it.
But people suffering burnout can feel very isolated and may feel they are the only person who has ever had this problem, when in fact, it is widespread.