Heavy workloads and deadline pressures often come as part and parcel of managerial life. This creates a huge personal toll which can affect not only your work performance but also your well-being. This is a serious problem which can result in a state called burnout. Burnout has been linked to depression, anxiety, sleep disturbances, increased alcohol use, hypertension (high blood pressure) and coronary artery disease. It is essential to recognise the symptoms and understand the strategies to recover from and prevent burnout.
Social Psychologist Professor Christina Maslach is renowned for her research on occupational burnout. She has identified burnout as a three-component syndrome that arises from chronic stressors on the job. These stressors include; exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy.
Exhaustion. This is the main symptom of burnout. It manifests itself in profound physical, cognitive and emotional fatigue, affecting a person’s ability to work and interact with colleagues. Exhaustion results from an accumulation of work demands and increasing time pressures.
Cynicism. This is also called depersonalisation, when a person becomes detached from their work, their colleagues and clients. This symptom is more common in high conflict work environments where a person feels unfairly treated and their opinions are not taken into consideration.
Inefficacy. This refers to the feelings of incompetence and lack of achievement. During periods of intense workloads people may feel that they are unable to succeed in certain situations. Inefficacy can result in tandem with exhaustion and cynicism because people cannot perform well when they are out of fuel and have lost connection with their work. However, burnout can also start with inefficacy if people do not have the resources and support to carry out their job.
To recover from burnout and prevent the situation arising again Christina Maslach’s research identifies that the workplace culture must change to address the underlying issues. Sounds like a big ask, but in order for a business to survive, its employees need to thrive in the environment they are in. Put simply, if the employee’s burnout, the business is no more. On an individual level there are strategies that can help those who have identified the symptoms described above and what might be causing them.
Prioritise self-care. Replenish your physical, emotional and mental energy. There are many ways to do this such as prioritising good sleep habits, adopting a healthy diet, exercise, seeing friends and family, meditating, journaling, volunteering, getting outside and enjoying nature, the list goes on! It might seem impossible to dedicate time to these tasks which is why it is essential that you choose something that you enjoy. Think about how you spend your working week and weekend, and where you can squeeze in time for yourself.
Shift your perspective. To fully address the burnout, do an honest evaluation of your work situation to determine the root cause (or causes) of the burnout. Consider what aspects you can change, and those that are fixed. Is it possible to change your perspective of the situation? This can help buffer the negative impact of even the inflexible aspects.
Reduce exposure to job stressors. Once you have identified the aspects you can change, go ahead and make the change! It is important to reset the expectations of your colleagues and clients, to let them know what your new boundaries and limits are for the high stress tasks and the reasons why you are doing this – to improve long-term productivity and your well-being.
Seek out connections. The best way to counteract burnout it to build strong interpersonal connections and continual personal and professional development. Ask a colleague or manager to mentor you, to help you navigate through the tough situations. Volunteering (a method mentioned in self-care) by advising others is a great way to break out of a negative cycle too.
Remember this is an on-going process, being aware of the symptoms of burnout will help you to prevent their return and allow you to enjoy a positive, supportive working environment.
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