It's something we're hearing a lot about lately, especially as employees are being asked to return to the office post-Covid lockdown. But of course burnout is nothing new - employees were running themselves ragged before the pandemic, barely keeping their lives afloat as they threw all of themselves into their jobs (often at the expense of their health, their family and their relationships).
But the pandemic shed new light on how we want to be working - and how much we are willing to give up for our jobs. The world of work is experiencing a major shift. Millions are reevaluating what their priorities are when it comes to their careers, their personal lives, and their work-life balance.
And as boomers retire, younger workers are letting it be known, loud and clear, that there is more to life than their jobs. They want meaningful work that they feel connected to, but they put equal (or even more) weight on the other things and people in their life that matter most.
They want to work to live, rather than live to work.
They are unwilling to go through life exhausted, anxious, unhappy and burnt out. And who can blame them?
So how do you actually know if you're experiencing burnout, or if you're just really stressed or tired? There are specific risk factors, experiences and outcomes that have been identified by researchers, who have found three shared experiences of employees experiencing burnout:
1. Overwhelming emotional exhaustion
2. Feeling cynical and detached from your job
3. A sense of inefficiency and inability to make a difference at work
Most of the clients who come to me for career counseling are experiencing at least one of these feelings, and many of them exhibit all three. When clients talk about work and tell me things like: "I just don't care about my job anymore," or "I dread going to work each day," or "I have absolutely nothing left to give at the end of the day," I know that they are on their way (or have already reached) burnout.
Christina Maslach, the leading expert and researcher in employee burnout, and the developer of the Maslach Burnout Inventory, outlines 6 specific risk factors for burnout, which include a MISMATCH between your expectations versus your employer's in the areas of:
- your workload
- your control over your work
- reward & recognition for a job well done
- your work community
- fairness & equity in your workplace, and
- your values (the pride & meaning you get out of work)
If you think you're at the point of burnout, it can be helpful to closely examine each of the above expectations to see how your needs align with what the reality is in your workplace. Once you're able to identify where the mismatch(es) is/are, you can think about having a conversation with your supervisor to see if there's ways to make their expectations more congruent with what you need and want; and/or start exploring other positions or companies that align better with what you want your career and life to look like.
In the meantime, here are 10 tips you can start implementing today to help reduce stress and burnout...
1. Take small breaks throughout your day – whether it’s taking a walk around the block, drinking some calming tea, sitting in the sun for a few minutes, or doing some stretching and deep breathing, it’s critical to have some down-time each day that's just for you.
2. Get a little physical activity - even just 15 minutes of walking a day can reduce stress, boost your mood, and improve focus and efficiency.
3. Ask for help when you need it at work and at home – you don’t have to do it all by yourself, and you don't have to do everything perfectly (especially during a pandemic!)
4. Say "no" - If you're already feeling overwhelmed, taking on more responsibilities at work or at home is only going to amplify your stress and burnout. It can be hard to say no, but it's absolutely critical if you want to take back your time and focus on things that will decrease your stress, rather than increase it.
5. Unplug and set boundaries – Technology makes it very easy to be “on” all the time. Make sure you have very clear boundaries about when you’re available for work and when you’re not, and be sure to shut down all electronics at least 30-60 minutes before bed. You don't need all that extra stimulation, worry, not to mention blue-light right before you try going to sleep.
6. Don't compare yourself to others - Just don't do it. No really, don't. You don't know what's going on in your coworker's home environment or internal life. They have different circumstances and they're built differently than you are. Try to notice and redirect any thoughts or comparisons to others - those thoughts do not serve you well. I was at a recent workshop where the presenter said "comparing yourself to others is the devil." Don't let the devil steal any more of your time! Focus on you, not them...
7. Set a buffer between work and personal time - especially if you're working from home. There are so many benefits to working from home, but it also blurs boundaries. If you can, designate a specific work-space, preferably one that has a door so you can close it when you're done working for the day. Create a ritual that replaces your commute and allows you to decompress for 5-10 minutes and shift from your work life to your personal life. Remove work email notifications from your phone so you're not tempted to do work during your personal time. Everyone needs down-time...allow yourself to have it. It will make you a better employee, partner, parent, friend, etc.
8. Pay close attention to when you feel the most overwhelmed – as you start to identify what specific factors are most draining and depleting for you, you can start noticing and addressing them.
9. Get specific about your priorities in both your career and personal life – once you know your priorities and values, you can identify and start making small changes to build your priorities into your life, prevent burnout and find more balance.
10. Reach out for help if you need it – sometimes we’re too overwhelmed and emotionally exhausted to know how to make changes. There are many local career and mental health professionals who can help you if needed.