What causes burnout at work and how to tackle it
A burnout occurs when you reach a state of exhaustion through prolonged stress and you are overwhelmed mentally, physically and emotionally. When experiencing a burnout, you are unable to find pleasure and motivation in going through the work day and fulfilling the role you have chosen for yourself. A lengthy burnout harms your career, personal life and the bottom line of your employer. Here is how you can recognise a burnout and then work to recover or avoid it.
RECOGNISE THE PROCESS
Physical: Your first symptoms are unusual tiredness and exhaustion. Either there is no time to eat or sleep or excess of either. That is nature reacting to stress. Soon your health deteriorates and you may experience multiple ailments like headaches, irritable bowels, skin infections and bouts of sickness.
Emotional: If you are a high achiever, this starts with an obsession to prove yourself against other achievers. Small mishaps lead to feelings of failure and self-doubt while successes do not give any added satisfaction. You feel isolated and lonely and then cynical and intolerant.
Behavioural: Unlike the physical and emotional symptoms, change in behaviour is evident to others. Behavioural changes include avoiding social contact for want of time, depending on food, alcohol, tobacco or drugs to cope with stress or avoiding work through procrastination or absence.
Your burnout is usually a result of a combination of your current job, daily routine and your outlook towards circumstances. At work, if you feel that you have no control over outcomes, you are facing job uncertainty, a demanding environment or are stuck in a monotonous role with no recognition or reward— you could be heading towards a burnout.
Similarly, your lifestyle accelerates a burnout when you spend excessive time at work at the cost of your personal off-time, health and social engagements, lose the emotional support of close relationships and choose to do everything yourself without engaging your team. The highly ambitious and aggressive Type A personalities experience burnouts more often. A need for power, refusal to share the spotlight, need for perfection, reluctance to delegate or a pessimistic attitude results in faster burnouts
- Geographic mobility.
- Going to college.
- Transfer to a new school.
- New job.
- New life style.
- Death of a loved one.
- Being fired from your job.
- Time pressure.
- Financial problems.
WHAT DOES IT COST YOU?
A burnout is a prolonged process and you could be in that state for months. Thus, your health takes a beating—starting with exhaustion and leading to heart diseases, digestive and circulatory illnesses. At work, your decision-making ability suffers along with reduction in memory and attention resulting in accidents and negative results. Your efficiency drops, making goals and targets impossible to reach.
There is increased cynicism and the resulting doubt and distrust impacts your professional relationships, further damaging outcomes. As the effect of burnout spills into your off time, your relationships suffer. In extreme cases, your burnout increases thoughts of quitting your job as you seek to avoid the situation.
CURE AND RECOVERY
At the personal level, choose positive social connections to make a speedy recovery. If you are experiencing a burnout, reach out to friends or loved ones who can provide you with great listening. Venting out, being heard and understood not only relieves stress but also deepens the relationship. A professional counsellor too works in a similar way and can be immensely helpful. At the workplace, avoid negative people and invest in positive relationships. Choose a social cause or a group that interests you to give new meaning to work and build additional social connections.
At the organisational level, as a leader help a colleague recover from a burnout by providing a mentor or manager to serve as a sounding board and recommending professional counselling through HR. Simultaneously address immediate causes of burnout like balancing workload, increasing individual control over outcomes and rewards and providing resources where required.
Preventing a burnout is far better than recovering from one! As a team leader, promote values and processes that both colleagues and the organisation can agree upon. These should relate to individual and teamwork, fairness, reward and control mechanisms. At a personal level, take charge of lifestyle choices and how you look at the world around you. Reassess your priorities to include health and relationships. In your daily routine, schedule in healthy eating habits, daily exercise, adequate sleep and time with loved ones. Take weekly time out to relax, engage in hobbies and switch off from technology.
A healthy and social routine reduces stress. Next, work on your attitude towards your current job and career or switch tracks if that doesn’t help. Find either meaning or enjoyment from tasks that you do—including coffee breaks with colleagues. Additionally, focus on meaning or enjoyment from your non-work life including your family and personal interests. Invest in building professional relationships and not simply transactional ones. . Finding meaning in life and bonding with people is the best way to prevent burnouts.
- Become aware of your own reactions to stress.
- Reinforce positive self-statements.
- Focus on your good qualities and accomplishments.
- Avoid unnecessary competition.
- Develop assertive behaviors.
- Recognize and accept your limits. Remember that everyone is unique and different.
- Get a hobby or two. Relax and have fun.
- Exercise regularly.
- Eat a balanced diet daily.
- Talk with friends or someone you can trust about your worries/problems.
- Learn to use your time wisely:
- Evaluate how you are budgeting your time.
- Plan ahead and avoid procrastination.
- Make a weekly schedule and try to follow it.
- Set realistic goals.
- Set priorities.
- When studying for an exam, study in short blocks and gradually lengthen the time you spend studying. Take frequent short breaks.
- Practice relaxation techniques. For example, whenever you feel tense, slowly breathe in and out for several minutes.