Burnout blues and what you can do to protect yourself

Burnout! The very word conjures up negative thoughts -- bent with exhaustion, twisted inside and fried mentally.

Once it was presumed that only the highest of the high achievers -- doctors, lawyers, senior executives -- suffered from this condition. No longer.

According to the second annual Work Confidence study from Skye Learning, 74% of workers surveyed (over 1,000 respondents) reported feeling burned out at least occasionally. One in six said they are burned out all the time. Burnout is most prevalent in workers under 45 years old.

The reasons given are long hours and -- something new to me, but not surprising -- second and third jobs. A third of those surveyed reporting having "side gigs" to make ends meet. Nearly another third (29%) are considering getting a part-time job.

While this survey focuses on causes for burnout, that’s not the only cause. “In one important sense, burnout is a form of self-neglect, or not caring for oneself,” says Donald Altman, a licensed psychotherapist. “It's related to overworking to the extent that you ignore your own emotional, physical and spiritual needs. This makes a fundamental point about self-care and taking the time to care for yourself and build up your inner reserves."

Causes for burnout, according to the Skye Learning study, are:

  • Lack of time for their personal lives: 38%
  • Lack of opportunity for advancement: 26%
  • Negative workplace environment: 23%
  • Unclear job expectations: 21%

Other symptoms of burnout were less prevalent but still troublesome. These included a poor relationship with a boss, lack of training, poor relationship with co-workers and “not enough job responsibility.”

So what can be done? Management can address the symptoms of burnout such as easing up on extra hours at work to allow for more personal time, providing better opportunities for promotion, creating a more positive workplace, and being more explicit with job expectations. Doing so, as this survey illustrates, will make it easier for employees to stick with their jobs, especially since there seems to be a high degree of job satisfaction.

At the same time, individuals need to exert themselves as a means of self-care.

"Even if work environments have toxic or unhealthy elements, what anyone can do is to focus on relationships that are nourishing and supportive,” says Altman, author of two books on this topic, "101 Mindful Ways to Build Resilience" and "Reflect."

For example, find one person you connect with and make a point to relate in a meaningful way. Another way to transform any outlook is to focus on gratitude. What is one positive thing that you can find to do at work daily? For example, consider how you can be helpful to others.

Altman also suggests, "Share your gratitude with another and get curious about the gratitude of others. This can tremendously shift your day.”

Mental visualization, something that everyone from elite athletes to Navy SEALs practice, can also be helpful. One practical exercise is what Altman calls the “three-minute mental vacation break,” something to “revitalize” the self.  

"Close your eyes and vividly picture yourself in a beautiful setting that brings you peace and joy," he says. "Or imagine yourself doing an activity that energizes you -- jogging, biking, dancing, or something else."

Mental visualization “works because the brain doesn't know the difference between the actual event or the visualization. You might even find your heart rate and respiration changes as you do the mental activity.” Even looking out the window at nature can help “restore depleted mental attention so you can focus and concentrate again.”

Burnout rates are rising, yes, but both management and employees themselves can find ways to improve it. Failure to do so not only increases the stress employees feel, but it also harms productivity and leads to higher levels of disengagement. And that burns out companies, too!

 

John Baldoni is an internationally recognized leadership educator and executive coach. In 2018, Trust Across America honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award in Trust. Also in 2018, Inc.com named Baldoni a Top 100 Leadership Speaker. In 2019, Global Gurus ranked him No. 9 on its list of top 30 global experts, a list he has been on since 2007. In 2014, Inc.com named Baldoni to its list of top 50 leadership experts. Baldoni is the author of 14 books, including“MOXIE: The Secret to Bold and Gutsy Leadership” and his newest, "GRACE: A Leader’s Guide to a Better Us." Learn more about why he wrote "GRACE" in this short video.

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