A gentle invitation for women in leadership across human care professions.
As you read this you might be thinking
‘ I don’t do burnout -I am a resilient, strong, can do, experienced professional woman
– I can ride the waves, I’m a survivor’.
This may be true. It is also true that
collectively many of us strong, resilient humans are beginning to become aware that we are not quite our best selves at the moment.
That feeling you can’t name? It’s called emotional exhaustion
Many of us who never adverted to burnout before can now identify with what the experts have termed Pandemic Fatigue – a way of describing the heavy weariness many of feel as the months in lockdown roll on, a combination of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. For some of us this extra stress has brought into sharp relief a tiredness or weariness we may have more easily ignored up to now. Maybe we are passionate about our work, committed, and proud of what we do. So we may habitually ignore, put up with or push through the under resourcing, the over expectation, the lack of recognition, support or training or whatever each of us might experience as the pressure point. The pandemic has put all of this into sharp relief. The tank is empty or dangerously low.
Far from being a bad thing, this is actually a wonderful opportunity to take stock, to regroup, to rediscover our passion and purpose, and to give ourselves the care and support we need for the next stage in our journey. Most of us will identify ourselves as somewhere on the continuum from balanced to burnout. And in a way that is the key – notice where you are and then take action.
What Is Burnout?
The term “burnout” is a relatively new term, first coined in 1974 by Herbert Freudenberger, in his book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement. He originally defined burnout as, “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”
We commonly understand burnout now as a reaction to prolonged or chronic job stress. It is characterised by three main dimensions:
*cynicism (less identification with work), and
* feelings of reduced professional ability.
To put it simply, if you feel physically and emotionally exhausted, start to hate your job, and begin to feel less capable at work, you are showing signs of burnout.
Pandemic fatigue is like a particular experience of burnout. It is the term used by WHO and others to describe the heavy weariness many of us feel as the months in lockdown roll on, a “combination of mental, physical and emotional exhaustion”,
Who gets burnout?
One in three doctors is experiencing burnout at any given time. This may not only interfere with own wellbeing but also with the quality of delivered care. Healthcare workers, and human care workers also seem to be at particular risk for burnout.Their heavy workloads place individuals with certain personality characteristics and lifestyle features at a higher risk of burnout.
Of course, it’s not just doctors and other human care workers who are burning out. People in every area of work, and at every level are at potential risk. According to a 2018 report by Gallup, employee burnout has five main causes:
1. Unreasonable time pressure. Employees who say they have enough time to do their work are 70 percent less likely to experience high burnout. Individuals who are not able to gain more time, such as paramedics and firefighters, are at a higher risk of burnout.
2. Lack of communication and support from a manager. Manager support offers a psychological buffer against stress. Employees who feel strongly supported by their manager are 70 percent less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis.
3. Lack of role clarity. Only 60 percent of workers know what is expected of them. When expectations are like moving targets, employees may become exhausted simply by trying to figure out what they are supposed to be doing.
4. Unmanageable workload. When a workload feels unmanageable, even the most optimistic employees will feel hopeless. Feeling overwhelmed can quickly lead to burnout.
5. Unfair treatment. Employees who feel they are treated unfairly at work are 2.3 times more likely to experience a high level of burnout. Unfair treatment may include things such as favouritism, unfair salary, and mistreatment from a co-worker.
The Symptoms of Burnout
You might identify yourself in one or more of these key symptoms of burnout.
• Alienation from work-related activities: Individuals experiencing burnout view their jobs as increasingly stressful and frustrating. They may grow cynical about their working conditions and the people they work with. They may also emotionally distance themselves and begin to feel numb about their work.
• Physical symptoms: Chronic stress may lead to physical symptoms, like headaches and stomach aches or intestinal issues.
• Emotional exhaustion: Burnout causes people to feel drained, unable to cope, and tired. They often lack the energy to get their work done.
• Reduced performance: Burnout mainly affects everyday tasks at work—or in the home when someone’s main job involves caring for family members. Individuals with burnout feel negative about tasks. They have difficulty concentrating and often lack creativity.
Or you might prefer to rate yourself on these ten symptoms;
2) Lack of Motivation
3) Frustration, cynicism other negative emotion
4) Cognitive problems-paying attention and concentration
5) Slipping work performance
6) Interpersonal problems at home or at work –more conflicts or you withdraw
7) Not taking care of yourself – unhealthy coping strategies, alcohol or other self medication, over reliance on junk food, not enough sleep
8) Being pre-occupied by work even when you are not at work
9) Generally decreased satisfaction-less happy and satisfied
10) Health problems – chronic stress overtime leading to other health issues such as digestive problems, heart diseases, depression and anxiety.
What should you do if you recognised your experience in any of the symptoms of burnout above?
The first thing is to know that you are not alone, you are not a failure. Recognising where you are on the continuum from balance to burnout is the beginning of your recovery. Depending on where you are on that continuum you might want to seek medical support. No matter where you are on that continuum you will benefit from robust support from a qualified professional as you chart your way back to balance and happiness. At a minimum please consider what you can do straightaway to support yourself across these five key steps:
1) Make time for Relaxation
Whether you take up meditation, listening to music, reading a book, taking a walk or visiting with friends and family, truly think about what you’ll do to relax, and designate time for it.
2) Develop or rediscover a passion outside of work
Find something outside of work that you are passionate about that’s challenging, engaging and really gets you going—whether a hobby, sports or fitness activities or volunteering in the community (along with other items we mention here, like relaxation, being able to “turn off” and participating in rewarding non-work activities).
Designate time everyday away from screens and devices.
4) Get Enough Sleep
Recovering from chronic stress and burnout requires removing or reducing the demands on you and replenishing your resources. Sleep is one strategy for replenishing those resources. ( Getting good sleep is supported by step three-unplugging from devices)
5) Set boundaries
If you are on the pathway to burnout you need to prioritise these key foundational steps: restorative sleep and rest, good nutrition, physical activity and social connection. You also need boundaries. If you’re feeling depleted, it is critical that you put these in place or re-establish them
If you have recognised where you are on the continuum from balance to burnout congratulations. In a way the hard work is done now. You can grasp the opportunity in this crises to reassert your values and to live again from what gives you joy.
Of course you do not have to take this journey alone. As a mindful mindset coach I would be happy to work with you.
You might like to come to my free webinar on Wed May 26th 5pmGMT BanishBurnout and Blossom. Book your place here: https://mindfulwithdee.kartra.com/page/banishburnoutandblossomMay26th