For many, work is challenging - as we try to balance the ever-increasing demands of our role with our own and our families’ needs. Mobile phones and 24/7 access to email mean that many of us spend our lives in ‘standby’ mode, rather than deliberately choosing to be in ‘on’ or ‘off’ mode.
This pre-existing level of stress has been compounded by the impact of Covid-19 - the need to work from home, the phased return (or not) to the workplace, the lack of control we have over what the next few months will bring, the fear of redundancies/restructuring and the constantly moving goalposts. It is no wonder that many of us are feeling exhausted, anxious and overwhelmed.
As managers we need to be alert to burnout in our team members, to spot the signs and to encourage open conversations to try to address the issues and provide supportive strategies to help. Remote working has added to the challenge of seeing the warning signs of burnout and taking action to stop its onset. Equally important, we need to be mindful of our own emotional health and be prepared to open up if we are struggling. For too long, managers have felt that they need to be strong, resilient, and capable of handling whatever comes their way.
The Guardian states ‘Often the only people who don’t recognise burnout are those who are exhibiting all of the symptoms, because highly motivated, driven, high functioning, ambitious people can have great difficulty believing they are breakable’.
As managers, what we need to do is to be authentic and open - setting an example for staff that it is okay to speak up if we are struggling and to ask for help and support.
In May 2019 the World Health Organisation recognised burnout as an ‘occupational phenomenon’, defined as
‘A syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:
So what does that look like ? There are a range of symptoms including being irritable, insomnia, feelings of anger or resentment, being tearful, feeling overwhelmed and unable to cope, having a brain that cannot switch off, difficulties being present with family/friends, failing to find joy in things you normally do, difficulties concentrating, muscle tension and pain, anxiety, isolation, lowered immunity and frequent illness.
The Help Guide Network for Good states:
‘Stress, by and large, involves too much - too many pressures that demand too much of you physically and mentally. ....Burnout, on the other hand, is about not enough ...feeling empty and mentally exhausted, devoid of motivation and beyond caring’.
Central to this is that while you’re usually aware of being under a lot of stress, you don’t always notice burnout when it happens. It is a gradual process. Indeed, it may be that your friends, family or colleagues realise that you are burnt out or running headlong towards it, before you can see or accept it.
Does any of this ring true for you or any of your team ? What, as managers, can we do to support any of our team who are experiencing this – or to support ourselves ?
There is no easy, quick remedy but there are many possible strategies to help reset and build resilience to burnout. Each person has to determine what is right for them.
The first step is to open up and talk about how you are feeling - either with a manager that you trust, a family member or with someone external to your work or home, such as a coach or counsellor. Thinking of ways to address burnout can in itself seem overwhelming and exhausting, let alone then taking action - that’s why it can be helpful to talk to a coach or someone who can help you to explore possible strategies or solutions.
Some of the useful strategies to consider are:
Taking time to look at the way you are leading your life, the choices you are making, how you use your energy and how you are thinking about yourself will help you to identify the pressure points and to take action to support yourself, rebuild your resilience and bring joy, energy and enthusiasm back into your working life.
Fundamentally, you may have felt that you had no control over how you got to this point of burnout, but what is critical is that you recognise that you have the power to take back control over how you chose to live your life and move out of burnout.
So, how do you deal with burnout - reach out to someone struggling, or speak out.
Clarendon Group, 12b Clarendon Road, Clarendon Dock, Belfast, BT1 3BG