Burnout is a relatively new term, used for the first time in the early 1970s by a psychologist named Herbert Freudenberger. But in recent years, it has come into cultural prominence, with more of us suffering from professional burnout every year. In fact, in a 2015 survey, Deloitte found that 77% of the 1,000 respondents had experienced burnout with their current position, and more than half of those people had experienced it more than once.
Why are so many more of us suffering from burnout than previous generations? The biggest reason is that in 2019, it’s almost impossible to actually “turn off,” to not be connected to your job in some way at all times. With all due respect to Dolly Parton, working from 9-5 is a relic of the past. Today, whether you’re physically in the office, working remotely, on vacation, or just trying to spend a Saturday repainting your house, the constant ding of your phone or those annoying little red notification bubbles, are incessant reminders of what’s happening at work. Even on vacation, the out-of-office notification you put up doesn’t help. Because unless you completely delete your email app from your phone, you’re still receiving those intrusions, which aren’t allowing the disconnection you were hoping the vacation would bring.
At this point, even taking an entire weekend off is rare. By Sunday, we’ve started to think about what we need to do for Monday morning – the meetings we need to be prepared for, the emails we need to send, the work we want to get a jump on. We start letting those thoughts take over what’s supposed to be our downtime. This constant connection leads to burnout, which is the overwhelming exhaustion – physical, mental, and emotional, that results from unrelenting stress. It may seem inevitable, but there are steps you can take to prevent burnout from intruding on your life.
Advice like “Take a vacation,” “Recharge,” and “Practice self-care” is good advice in general, but those are temporary solutions. Typically, as soon as most of us come back from vacation, we quickly fall right back into the same feeling of overwhelm we had before our time away. When you’re dealing with work-related burnout, you need to do a little bit more to protect yourself.
First, it’s important to know the warning signs. Burnout is a form of stress, so like all stress, the symptoms can be both physical and mental. You might find yourself more fatigued than usual, but also suffering from insomnia. You can develop headaches or stomach pain. Your immune system can become weakened, leading to more sickness than usual. Overall, you just feel drained. You start to notice that tasks that you used to fly through, enjoy even, are suddenly taking everything you have just to get through.
Working through burnout can be as exhausting as the burnout itself. The best way to deal with it is to prevent it in the first place. Keep an eye out for the symptoms of burnout we mentioned above, and as soon as you start to suspect it’s creeping in on you, start taking steps to eliminate it.
Reject Imposter Syndrome
Work on eliminating imposter syndrome from your life. Having a strong belief in yourself and your abilities will go a long way toward reducing the stress that leads to burnout. If you’re faced with a task that you know you can perform, and perform correctly, your energy will go toward doing that. Don’t believe that you’re doing everything wrong, or that this one task will be the first domino in the collapse of your career and life.
Manage Your Time & Delegate
This ties directly into the suggestion of eliminating imposter syndrome. Plan. Prioritize. Know exactly what you’re working on and when, and know that you can and will get it done. And trust your team. Delegation is difficult for a lot of us. Contradicting the imposter syndrome we struggle with is the belief that we’re the only one who can accurately complete a task. We hesitate to give up any piece of our work. Doing this will almost certainly ensure we start to see burnout creeping in. There will always be pieces of our work that we can and should delegate. It’s important to trust your team, to know that you can give someone a task, and that task will be completed correctly and on time.
Outside of Work
There are things we can do outside of the office to reduce our stress inside the office, too. Have some sort of completely non-work-related creative outlet. It can be anything – read, write, knit, draw, paint, renovate your house, learn to play the banjo. Whatever you choose, throw yourself into it while you’re not at work and give the creative part of your brain a chance to wake up and take control for a little while so your more work-focused side can turn off. And promise yourself that while you’re partaking in that activity, you’ll ignore any beeps or buzzes or notifications coming from your phone. You can give yourself an entire afternoon to focus on non-work activities. You deserve that.
Relationships that exist outside of work are vital as well. We all need non-work-centric friendships; people we can gather and talk about topics other than work with. People who are completely outside our professional circle are vital to keeping a separation between our work and our personal lives, and it’s important to nurture those relationships.
Burnout is real, and it can be crushing, destroying your confidence, your enjoyment of your job, and even your enjoyment of activities other than work. But there are steps you can take to prevent it. Have you had to deal with burnout? Do you have any tips for dealing with it that we didn’t mention? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and let us know.