You don’t have to go too far these days without hearing a story of someone who is feeling the effects of burnout. The unfortunate reality is that the expectations placed on employees in the modern working environment creates the ideal breeding ground for burnout and exhaustion. Workplaces and offices are constantly improving, and while it is not quite the norm, it’s no longer unusual for big companies to have subsidised canteens, gyms, quiet rooms, breast milk pumping areas, bars and even beds for their employees.
On one hand this looks like conscientious investment in employee loyalty and satisfaction. To other more cynical observers, this looks more like the employer is creating an environment their workers never have to leave.
You don’t have to work in a fully-equipped state of the art office to “never leave” your job too. You know that little black device that pings excitedly every time you get an email? The one you can’t help glancing at at 10.30pm right before bed? That’s an extension of your office too. We are now in the sorry state where we are taking our bosses to bed with us every night, and the last interaction we have before we close our eyes is with our colleagues. This, my friends, is gross.
As of 2015, the average worker was receiving 121 emails per day; a number that has undoubtedly risen in the 4 years since then. Between all those emails we are now spending an average of 2 hours and 15 minutes on social media. We also spend over 10 hours a week in meetings, which is roughly 2 hours per day without including the hours that it may take to prepare. Wrap that up with a fairly average 1.5 hour per day commute and what do you get? You get a fairly advanced primate brain, which is completely over-stimulated having not evolved at the same speed as our technological advancements.
We are literally not equipped to deal with the continuous onslaught of interruptions, information, requests, expectations, comparison or criticism that comes from all this unending & stressful feed of data.
Combined with the usual expectations of work where you have to be a “high performer” or self-starter and meet the objectives of your role or team, it’s only natural that you might start to feel overwhelmed and utterly out of control.
The first signs
According to the website HelpGuide.org “burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands.” The continuous, uninterrupted messages we receive daily, coupled with the stresses and expectations of general day-to-day living can pile up and before we know it we’ve moved into a state that is practically unbearable.
The signs are going to look different to everyone, as we all cope differently and have our own limits. You might start feeling exhausted or your creativity has evaporated. Maybe you feel completely underwhelmed by the usual office banter, and you want to check out or stop engaging. Your performance might take a nose-dive, perhaps even to the point where your manager starts questioning your commitment. This can have a spiralling effect as you could start on the path of self-doubt and despair, telling yourself you’re not good enough. Some people might even start having physical symptoms like chronic headaches, stomach issues or menstrual changes. Stress hormones leave you in a constant state of fight or flight, which can impact every part of your body and life and when stress is unrelenting to the point of burnout, you will be left feeling empty and devoid of drive, passion or motivation.
Take action; don’t let it go further
If any of this is ringing true for you, it is time to take some evasive action and stop the effects of burnout. Here are 10 small interventions you can take to stop burnout before it takes over.
1. Set boundaries
Start setting some rules to live by remembering that work / life balance has to start with you. Stop coming in early if you are not leaving early and stop staying late unless it’s an absolute emergency. It should not be the norm that you pull crazy hours to get your job done. If it’s not realistic for you to stop bringing your work phone or laptop home every night, you could start by even setting some ground rules at home such after 8pm is a no-work zone so the phones / emails / notifications go to bed for the night. No one is going to set your boundaries, and most employers will unwittingly take as much as you have to give. You need to learn to put yourself first and be protective of your time.
2. Take time off
If you haven’t had a holiday yet, it’s time to get booking. Your holiday should be a non-negotiable no-work zone where you can refresh and rebuild your energy. If you have recently had a holiday and you are still feeling like you are devoid of motivation or energy, then it may be time to explore options around taking some protracted time off.
This is going to be completely dictated by your own personal circumstances, but what would you do if you had 4 – 6 weeks where you didn’t have to think about work? Can you take some unpaid leave? You simply won’t know what’s possible until you start to plan.
3. Digital detox
Set specific times during the day where you have absolutely no digital interference. Whether that’s a book at lunchtime or a phone-free walk in the evening after work. Taking time to breathe and relax without constantly swiping and scrolling can be hugely beneficial.
4. Learn to relax
Practicing mindfulness can be hugely beneficial when building resilience and managing your responses to stress. Try getting up 10 minutes early to start your day with a simple meditation practice and you might be surprised by how many significant improvements you notice over time. You can even experiment with some super-simple mindfulness during your commute.
5. Look at your sleep hygiene
Are you getting a good quality 7 – 8 hours of sleep a night? Popular sleep researcher, Matthew Walker describes sleep as a “non-negotiable biological necessity” and has openly declared that shorter sleep contributes to deterioration in overall health and well-being, as well as significantly shortening lives. Could poor sleep hygiene be contributing to your stress management or productivity? Examine your nightly patterns and identify ways that you could improve your sleep. Things like, removing screens an hour before bed, reading a book, dimming lights, sleeping in a cool room can all make a huge impact on your body’s ability to get you to sleep and stay there!
I will be delving into this in a lot more detail in an upcoming article…watch this space…
6. Prioritise the tasks you enjoy
When you get to work do you sit and stare at the list of tasks for the day; crumbling as you try to decide where to start? This lack of motivation is characteristic of burnout, so get ahead of it by prioritising the smaller jobs that maybe give you a bit of a swing in your stride.
If your energy is a little low at the start of the day, use this time to ease into things by prioritising the more enjoyable jobs. You may find they springboard you with energy to manage the less awesome crap later on.
7. Structure the less awesome tasks
It’s an inevitability that you can’t love every aspect of your work, unfortunately there will always be tasks that drain your energy or drive procrastination. Try to pin down exactly what these are and schedule a set time in which to do them. The Pomodoro method has become renowned as being a fantastic productivity hack. Using this system you break your work into chunks of 35 minutes on, 5 minutes off. Repeat this cycle maybe 3 or 4 times and then take a longer break of 20 or 30 minutes. By breaking your work down into chunks this way you are never working too far beyond your natural attention span and you will feel less daunted by a task. It won’t take hours and hours, just 35 minutes of focus. This subtle shift in mindset can have radical differences in your motivation levels.
8. Get an alarm clock
Lads, why the hell are we all taking our chats with bosses and colleagues to bed with us?! Even if you aren’t working on emails, the mindless scrolling before bed is not conducive to sleep as it’s been proven that one hour of phone use before bed has been shown to blunt melatonin levels by 20% and result in a poorer level of REM sleep overall. A sure fire way to reduce the temptation is to leave your phone out of the bedroom altogether, and upgrade to an alarm. You can replace your phone with a book and lull yourself into a much deeper, sounder, healthier sleep. This will not only do wonders for your productivity levels in work, and also will inevitably boost your mood and motivation.
9. Speak to a GP
Don’t diminish or underestimate the effects and power of burnout. It can ravage your life and leave your feeling alienated from your friends and colleagues. If you are struggling to get on top of things, your doctor is on hand to support you. We tend to get lost in our worries at times, or self-blame for lack of motivation but it’s not your fault. Getting some advice from a third party may give you an opportunity for a little perspective.
10. Reach out
As we fall further and further into isolation, desolation or despair we can forget that there are people around us who care or can help us out. Have a coffee or lunch with a friend or trustworthy colleague and open up about how you’ve been feeling. Sometimes even verbalising the situation can make us realise that things may have crossed a line or that a change is needed. Leaning on people is not a sign of weakness; it is a sign of healthy, thriving community and in this modern age we could all learn to do a little more supportive leaning. Talk it out. Hear another perspective. You never know, they may have gone through something very similar.
The bottom line
Someone, somewhere may need to read this very sentence right now, and if it’s you then listen up.
Repeat after me:
NO EMPLOYER is ever worth your sanity, dignity, mental health or emotional wellbeing.
The best job in the world is not the best job in the world if it involves late nights, weekends, long hours, constant calls or unreasonable expectations. If you are experiencing burnout you should be completely open and frank with your employer about it. They have a duty of care to ensure that their employees are not injured while doing their job, and this goes for emotional or psychological injury too. If an employer does not take your complaints seriously then you will be doing yourself a disservice by continuing to give them your valuable time and expertise.
Protect yourself at all costs.
Tamara is the self-proclaimed Unqualified Blogger. She is a freelance Copywriter and Marketing Communications / Brand Strategist and Creative Generalist. She is available for speech writing, tattoo conventions and karaoke parties or would love to work with you on your latest marketing or creative challenges.
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