Written by: Britt-Mari Sykes, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
Burnout is all around us. And yet all too often we focus solely on the individual experience of burnout and neglect the contexts that contribute to also making it a shared experience.
When we focus the dialogue on burnout, and the responsibility for burnout, on individual employee experience, we make it increasingly difficult to turn the focus towards collective solutions.
With this in mind, let’s take a closer look at the characteristics of work environments that frequently contribute to burnout, the personal experiences of burnout, and 8 suggestions for regaining personal health and well-being. This is an open invitation to us all to start creating collective approaches to burnout.
Reflecting on work environments and burnout
Burnout is often compounded by contributing external factors. Most frequently these factors include the type of work environment we are in, the amount of work and the hours demanded of us, expectations at work that are too high or too low, poor leadership, being placed in a role that doesn’t fit our abilities, being unable to communicate concerns about our work or contribute to possible change.
Work environments that do not acknowledge the reality of burnout or the systemic factors that contribute to it are less likely to examine the expectations they place on employees or to monitor for signs of burnout. These same environments are less likely to assess the supports, if any, they have in place for employees generally. They are less likely to have provisions in place for those who may require time away from work or be open to creating strategies to help employees successfully return to work.
A client of mine recently shared their return-to-work experience after a leave of absence due to burnout. They attempted to have a conversation with management about flexible options to help them successfully re-integrate back into full-time work (without working 12 – 16 hours a day on their first return). The stark response from management was one I have heard all too often: “It’s the nature of the job”. In other words, this job requires 12 – 16 hours of your time, end of story.
Consider the following
When an employer prioritizes “the nature of the job” over the individual employees whose talents, motivation, and commitment bring that job and the work required literally “to life”, those employees are at risk for burnout.
When an employer places excessive demands on an employee’s time, as in the example above, the professionalism, expertise, and skills the job requires are undermined. And those employees are at risk for burnout.
When we prioritize the function of the job (“its nature”) and minimize the intrinsic value and meaning that job and work have for the employee, we put them at risk for burnout.
The personal experience of burnout
Contrast the above with the personal experiences and signs of burnout.
Physical signs can range from lack of energy to intense exhaustion, sleep disruptions to dietary changes, and chronic headaches (these symptoms should always be checked by a physician to exclude any underlying or chronic medical condition).
Physical signs are often coupled with emotional fatigue and numbness, a lack of motivation, feelings of emptiness, boredom, stress, and anxiety. Other signs can include apathy, a lack of focus, disengagement, disorientation, cynicism, negative feelings toward work, and even dread at the prospect of going to work.
We can feel overwhelmed and disengaged. We may be functioning at our job but not personally connected to it. We lose the intrinsic value of what we are doing. The result can be a sense of hopelessness. That in turn can make burnout feel insurmountable.
We may even experience further stress, anger, and frustration over the fact that we are even experiencing burnout. We feel anxious and discouraged that we cannot simply cope and carry on with the physical and emotional exhaustion we are experiencing. There can also be experiences of shame and guilt if we are not able to continue our work without some time off.
Regaining health and well-being
While burnout does require collective solutions, we can regain personal well-being.
We can regain a more empowered and positive personal position towards work and career, one that prioritizes our overall health.
8 Suggestions for health and well-being
Offer yourself a daily dose of self-compassion. Honor and take seriously what you are feeling and experiencing.
Practice being more flexible with yourself. Take stock of those areas of your life that might benefit from a more flexible schedule, attitude, and/or goals, as examples.
Turn your attention towards your emotions, energy, and motivation to begin to feel more present and connected with your experience of burnout. It may seem counterintuitive but burnout has meaning. Burnout can be a strong physical and emotional beacon leading to deepened awareness, reflection, possible change, and/or re-orientation.
Reflect on the internalized narratives, personal expectations, and attitudes you carry about yourself, your relationship with work and career, and the meaning of work. What information and insights come from these reflections?
Realistically and compassionately assess what changes are possible within your life and how you work. Are any changes possible within your work environment?
Reflect on your boundaries. Start implementing, as best you can, personally appropriate and manageable boundaries between work and the rest of your life.
Put some focus on other areas of your life: personal interests, and relationships. Experience yourself and your capacities in other areas of your life. Slowly create separate life-enhancing spaces from the burnout associated with work. Remember, we are always more than any one job, role, or professional identity.
Integrate small, but no less important, steps and decisions to restore health and well-being to your life each day. Experiment with healthy and manageable strategies that benefit you physically, nutritionally, psychologically, emotionally, and relationally.
The experience of burnout can impact a personally valued work ethic, a valued professional identity and the meaning and purpose work holds for us. Career Counselling can help. Contact here for more information or to book a consultation.
Britt-Mari Sykes, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Britt-Mari Sykes Ph.D. is a Career Counsellor and founder of CANVAS Career Counselling working remotely with clients across Canada. Britt-Mari offers a reflective and strategic process to clients, one that integrates their lived experiences, values, and aspirations. This experiential approach to career counselling helps clients gain greater clarity and perspective and design practical steps towards a more meaningful relationship with work and career.