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Why Do Business Leaders Find It Hard To Deal With Burnout?

Written by: Hilary Rowland, 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.


Recently a number of companies, Nike, LinkedIn, and Bumble have announced that they are closing for a week to give their staff time to recover from the burnout caused by the pandemic, lockdowns and the negative effects of working from home. All well and good and the right thing to do, but what about the leaders and owners of the business? They are probably as burnt out as anyone else, but as a business owner myself, I know it is very hard to switch off from thinking and possibly worrying about the business.

It's very hard to switch off these days. It's almost impossible go completely off-grid in our constantly on 24/7 world. We have plenty of advice and offers of help, exhortations to eat sensibly, exercise, we know all of that. We also have lots of mindfulness apps, wearable tech which might even have the effect of making us feel worse as we fail to do the required amount of exercise. All this effort to deal with burnout can be a treadmill, to make us fitter and better equipped to run on the other treadmill, work. It’s easy to turn to the productivity hacks, getting up at 4am in the morning, not doing emails until 5pm, but that just makes the treadmill go faster.

It feels as though we're merely snatching time for ourselves.

What would it feel like if you felt really rested and energised? What are the chances of that at the moment? Some of us have had holidays, but I was talking to someone the other day who had just come back from a holiday with the family (including granny and mother-in-law!) and he didn't look and sound at all rested. You many have had a week in a tent in the indifferent weather we’re pleased to call summer in the UK. Not exactly the break you were hoping for.

A recent survey shows that nearly two thirds of managers have suffered burnout since lockdown and a fifth are considering leaving their jobs. Anxiety is a big contributor and there’s plenty to be anxious about. It’s no good taking the odd day off here and there to try and cope with it. If you’re in a senior position, people depend on you, and you have a greater responsibility to invest in getting back to health.

Now the autumn’s here, how are you feeling? Ready for the upturn in the economy or anything the pandemic still has to throw at us? If there's one thing that we've learned over the last year or so, it's the extent to which the constant uncertainty and lack of control eat away at our resilience. Your holidays may have provided a change of scene and activity but may not have given you what you need to really renew and regenerate.

Burnout at work is extremely serious, leading to physical and mental implications such as a loss in confidence in your abilities, feeling lethargic and disconnected from your employees and peers, changes in your usual behaviour, lack of care with your work and physical illness. If you’re experiencing any of the above, you aren’t alone – in a survey undergone earlier this year, 60% of the UK population stated that they struggled to stay positive on a daily basis.

What are some of the signs that you're experiencing burnout? Feeling disconnected from your work, emotional exhaustion, tired, drained, worrying about coping. Perhaps you've been experiencing physical symptoms.

Burning out is a very real concern and there are three reasons why business leaders don’t deal with burnout:

  • They feel ashamed about asking for help especially as workplaces don’t support slowing down

  • They often equate it with a physical illness like a cold and think that a weekend away will sort it

  • Investing in addressing burnout is a sign of weakness and that it’s best dealt with by working harder.

Left untreated, burnout can cause people to become depressed, anxious, and distracted, which can impact not only their work relationships, but their personal interactions, too.

Time to do something about it?

One of the best ways of dealing with it is to take ourselves out of the situation altogether. Over the summer I took myself off on a week’s retreat to the Scottish island of Iona, staying in the Abbey and living in community with other guests. There was a spiritual component to it, and I spent a lot of time looking out to sea, just being quiet. I gained perspective on our business and the progress we have made, but I also felt the need to make sense of the effect that the pandemic and lockdown have had on me.

I realised that when the pandemic struck, I went into something of a panic, especially about our business. Being in the business of running executive retreats we are primarily a face-to-face business and there was no face-to-face last year. The rush for many businesses was to pivot (how often did we hear that word?) online, which we tried, but had we stood back, probably common sense would have told us that it wouldn’t work, which is where we got to at the beginning of 2021 when we decided to sit tight and wait for the hotels to open.

What I realised last week was that I hadn’t stopped panicking deep down and it had taken its toll. I was mentally exhausted and feeling waves of depression. I know I am not alone. It’s not as though we can see a way out of the difficulties and uncertainties of the pandemic. We thought vaccinations would liberate us and then along came another variant. Each stage brings with it another set of regulations to get used to, school children in bubbles, whether to get the staff back to the office or not.

What we’re all recognising now is that this is burnout caused by endless uncertainty, pressure and lack of control. One of the feelings I had was that I didn’t have the right to have burnout: we were safe and healthy, we had food on the table, could talk to family and friends and had my lovely partner for companionship. Many business owners report that their businesses are doing well, certainly better than expected and staff have stayed engaged.

It’s hard to admit to burnout perhaps because there seem to be so many other people who are worse off, we think it’s not a real illness and probably possible to tough it out if ignored. But left untreated, burnout can cause real health issues, which can impact not only our work relationships, but our personal interactions.

What might your burnout be doing to your business, your family or your friends?

The good news is that once identified, burnout can be reversed through taking some time to work on yourself. Take time to regain some perspective, learn to say ‘no’ in a constructive way, take proper breaks, perhaps even by yourself and manage expectations. These are all ways you can help yourself. Finding your focus and direction and reconnecting with your purpose and values are core ways to gaining that perspective and focus.

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Hilary Rowland, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine

Hilary Rowland founded Next Chapter Retreats with her business partner Peter Hyson following an accomplished career, with more than 30 years experience in business advice, professional speaking, coaching and HR. She has worked with senior executives across numerous companies including the BBC, PWC, Academy for Chief Executives, and a variety of SMEs.She's passionate about helping individuals find their sense of purpose and then live it.

They have had considerable success with their unique retreats over many years working with senior executives in groups, witnessing how effective the power of people working together can be on their personal development. This approach allows the creation of an environment for true reflection and exploration by taking participants ‘off-grid’, free from the distractions of their professional and personal lives, and with the time to work at real depth.



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