For many people, they think that burnout is the same as stress, but that’s not entirely accurate. Stress is acute–we experience it in-the-moment due to a particular trigger. But burnout? Burnout is more long-term. It stems from accumulated stress over time, and often manifests almost like a depression: you may feel perpetually exhausted and anxious. You may feel like you can’t catch up on sleep, or that nothing brings you pleasure. You have trouble concentrating and connecting with people you love.
Burnout takes time to set in, and also takes time to heal, and it’s often caused by long-term workplace stressors (although it can definitely be caused by non-work-related concerns such as marital problems or ongoing crises). What can you do if you’re feeling burned out at work? Here are five things you can do as a coworker or manager to help yourself and others find relief:
1. Take care of yourself (physically and emotionally)
One of the single biggest things you can do to prevent or alleviate burnout is simply taking care of your own mind and body. When we hit burnout, we have a nasty habit of letting basic self care take a back-seat to the demands of work and to our own stress and anxiety, which has the truly delightful added benefit of making the burnout worse (if you couldn’t tell, that was a bit of sarcasm).
Taking care of our bodies is all pretty obvious: Eat nutritious, fulfilling (but not over-filling) meals on a regular basis, maintain a sleep schedule, drink plenty of water, exercise regularly, and minimize substance use (not just alcohol or narcotics, but even caffeine–yes, that means you, “person who can’t function without 10 cups of coffee a day”). But it’s more than just that.
Taking care of ourselves means allowing ourselves to truly rest when we’re sick or overloaded (that doesn’t just mean working from home). It means taking care of our mental health by maintaining positive relationships with our significant others, friends, and family, making new friends, seeing mental health professionals if necessary, and taking our prescribed medications. If your mind and body are at 100%, the odds of you still feeling burnt out are greatly minimized.
2. Set realistic standards (for yourself and others)
Are you a “Type A” professional, obsessed with control and getting everything “just right?” Have you been called a perfectionist and been told you need to let some things go? If so, you’re at a statistically higher risk of burnout than others who have more relaxed personality types. Burnout is often caused by regularly and continuously going above and beyond your duties, and while everyone appreciates a go-getter, there comes a time when you need to accept that you might have to just clock your hours, hit your deadlines, and go home.
This doesn’t mean giving up your values or your standards–you can (and should) continue to learn from every project, bringing lessons about what you can improve into your next task. But if your values include continuing to bring your best self to your work for years to come, you’re better served by learning when and where to prioritize your energy and skills rather than putting 100% of yourself into every single project, regardless of if it’s required for ongoing success.
Managers, listen up: Here’s the really hard part. Now you need to take this new lesson about your personal standards and apply it to your team. Understand when you need to push your team to do A+ work, and when you’ll be fine with just a passing grade. If you don’t want them checking their email at 1 in the morning, consider not responding to emails at that time yourself. To prevent burnout within your team and yourself, you need to lead by example and allow them the same flexibility, care, and compassion that you’re now showing yourself.
3. Find your passion (outside of work)
We get it; for some of you, work is your life. You got into this field because you’re passionate about doing your best, passionate about what you’re working on, and passionate about who you’re helping. This is especially likely to be true in the “care” industries like education and healthcare, where everyone is closely involved in molding minds and healing bodies.
But at the end of the day, no matter how much you love your work, it’s still work, which means you’re incurring physical and mental stress that can’t be made better by simply working more. Eventually, you’ll need to step back and rejuvenate. Stepping back means the self care we described before, but rejuvenation requires being a little more active and intentional.
The best way to do this is to make sure that your identity is more than just your workplace: finding hobbies, exploring new talents and new outlets for expression, and coming to know yourself as a full and rounded human being even outside of your workplace is key to creating a buffer that ensures your work doesn’t begin to subsume your entire psyche, allowing burnout to kill whatever passion for your job you had to begin with.
4. Connect with others (through words and actions)
Isolation is a major contributing factor to burnout, and relationships are the only cure. The more we keep to ourselves, the more we let our emotions build up inside of us, and the more we cut ourselves off from those that care about us and want to see us succeed, the worse we feel. This isn’t just true in our personal lives; it’s true in our professional lives as well. No matter how much we pride ourselves in just being able to “clock in, do our work, and clock out,” we’re working alongside other people, and making an effort to connect will make the simple idea of work far less stressful.
With coworkers, this can be as simple as basic social niceties. Ask your cubicle mate about their weekend, and take genuine interest in their answer. Find someone to sit with at lunch and take some time to get to know them. If someone needs help, be the support they need. Make Their Day by going out of your way and doing something kind to make a coworker’s life easier. Yes, this can expend energy–especially if you’re not a natural extrovert. But building these relationships means building the support network that will help you out and return the favor whenever you’re at risk of burning out or losing interest in what you do.
And if you’re the boss, Be There for your team. You may (sometimes) have a larger salary, but it can be lonely at the top of the hierarchy and the more you can open yourself up emotionally to the needs of your employees, the more you’ll earn their trust and feel like a cooperative team that keeps everyone involved from burning out and losing their spark.
5. Believe in yourself
Yes, believe in yourself. Sounds corny, doesn’t it? Well, you’re not wrong. But cliches are often cliches for a reason, and this is no exception. The more you question yourself and your abilities, the more you’ll feel stress about any given task at hand. If you approach a project with the confidence to complete it on time and up to standards, the more likely you are to not only meet those goals, but to approach the project with an open mind and a willingness to Play with new ideas that could lead to even greater outcomes. If you don’t believe in yourself, you shut yourself off to these new possibilities, you stop trying, and that right there is the path to burnout.
Believing in yourself is not only a great way to avoid burnout, but it’s also the best path out of burnout if you’re already there. With self confidence and self belief, you’re more inclined to put yourself out there and speak up when you need something changed, set appropriate boundaries to keep your burnout from getting worse, and collaborate with others on possible solutions.
When you Choose Your Attitude and approach your job with a sense that you can accomplish everything you need to, you’re far more likely to come to a solution that pulls you (and others) out of burnout than you are to fall deeper into that state of disillusionment.
Ideas to Reflect On:
– Are you aware of when you’re at risk of burnout? What changes do you notice in your body, emotions, and behavior when you’re approaching your limit?
– What drives you outside of your work? If you quit your job today, would you still have a robust sense of self?
– As a manager, how can you incorporate the 4 pillars of the FISH! Philosophy to help keep you and your team happy, productive, and not at risk of burning out?
Whether you work in business, education, or healthcare, FISH! offers accessible, intuitive solutions to empower your workers, bring your team together, and introduce Play into your organization. We invite you to contact us today at 800.695.4534 or firstname.lastname@example.org to speak with our cultural specialists, who will help you find the right FISH! Philosophy solutions that will nurture your organizational culture and motivate your team!
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