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Avoiding Burnout

Burnout is regarded as a distinct type of stress related to demands on the job, and you can keep it at bay

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In this ever-changing, covid-plagued era, many people today are experiencing unprecedented pressures and stressors. As the stress builds up over time, these individuals suffer from burnout and feeling as if there is no time for their lives.

Burnout is a term that has made the rounds in business and general literature over the last decade and a half. It’s actually a unique type of stress that involves:

* diminished personal accomplishment,
* emotional exhaustion, and
* de-personalization.

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Although researchers are still exploring the nature of burnout, it is widely regarded as a distinct type of stress related to demands on the job.

At Risk

Who is most susceptible to burnout? Those in helping professions, or in positions that have significant amounts of interpersonal contact. This includes people in customer service departments, municipal services, and health care.

While burnout is costly to organizations, unfortunately, those organizations in which employees feel the effects of burnout, often do little to be of service. How do you know if you’re heading for burnout, or are already there?

Have you been evaluating yourself negatively lately? Does it seem to you as if you’re not making any progress or have even lost ground? If you feel as if you are not as competent and successful doing your job as you have been in the past, you’re experiencing the sensation of diminished personal accomplishment.

Depersonalization

Another clue to burnout is depersonalization. This occurs when you rotely do what you’re supposed to, but withdraw emotionally from what you’re doing. In the health care industry, this could be characterized by a nurse who follows correct medical procedures, and is cordial with patients, but no longer cares about them on a personal basis.

In business, depersonalization can be seen as detachment, a blase attitude towards peers, clients, or customers, and perhaps to one’s organization in general. If you begin to see others as objects rather than human beings, beware, you could well be on the burnout path.

The third component of burnout is emotional exhaustion. Here, it feels as if you don’t have the capacity to respond emotionally to others. Your energy level is low. You are irritated or tense. You know that you can’t give of yourself like you have in the past. Following a long weekend, or time away from work, you still loathe the thought of going back to work.

Emotional exhaustion often is the first of the three characteristics to appear when you’re in danger of experiencing burnout. Long hours and heavy demands can drain your emotional resources. People who may have been optimistic about what they could achieve on the job, and had high expectations for themselves, are particularly susceptible to burnout as they begin to experience set-backs and frustrations.

Antidotes

Among the emerging antidotes are 1) the ability to know, observe, and be involved in the outcome of your efforts, and 2) the opportunity to engage in a self-evaluation.

The first remedy allows you to maintain a mental link between what you do and what results occur. Said another way, it’s highly stressful to work at a job all day long, perhaps interacting with many, many people, and not know if what you’ve done has been of value, or been appreciated.

The second remedy, self-evaluation, involves looking at what you do with some measure of objectivity, perhaps using a chart, checklist, or scale developed during less trying times, that includes most of the key components of your job description and responsibilities.

One of the best safeguards for not falling prey to burnout is to accept the input and advice from others. Your spouse, co-workers, and friends often are able to notice changes in your behavior that may be detrimental to your well-being, long before you are aware of them. Please, listen up when somebody says “take it easy.”

If you’ve ever saw Star Trek: the Next Generation, you know that when Counselor Troi told Captain Picard to take it easy, at first, he always resisted. Then, he relented, and followed her advice. Captain Picard, I postulate, never missed a day on the bridge due to burnout.

Tune Up the Old Bod

Particularly if you’ve been putting in long hours and facing high-expectations, schedule a regular preventative medical exam, complete with cardiovascular and cancer screening tests. Many people who appear to be in good shape find out the hard way, either through a heart attack or sudden death, that all was not well internally. You and I don’t have the capability to determine how well everything is going on inside, solely based on the way we feel and perform.

Some top athletes in our time, among them Pete Maravich, Hank Gathers, and Sergei Grinkov were in top physical condition, but perished at an early age because of long-standing coronary problems that went undetected. In some cases, well-conditioned athletes who act with unknown coronary problems, actually live years past the time when a non-athlete in the same condition would have lived.

By the time you reach your forties, and certainly mid-forties and fifties, heart disease becomes the leading cause of death. Heart disease is brought on by a variety of factors such as a sedentary lifestyle, smoking too much, experiencing too much stress, getting too little rest and so on. Curiously, as more women rise to higher and higher ranks within organizations, the risk of heart disease rises as well.

Surrounded By Workaholics?

Despite the well-known, high prevalence of stress and burnout in the contemporary working world, and the resulting dangers, some organizations still maintain a culture in which employees have it tougher than it needs to be. Too many managers have the misguided notion that only wimps are stressed. These are the same managers who tend to give out stress in abundance. If only they knew that stress is real, and exacts a cost on both individuals and the organization.

Someday, organizations will be held responsible, both socially and legally, for the mental health and well-being of their employees. Until that day, you’ll probably need to accept it as a given that if you want to flourish in an otherwise potentially stressful environment, there are not many places you can look for help. You’re going to have to help yourself.

Suppose you work with a boss who unduly heaps piles of stuff on your desk with little or short notice? What are some of the strategies you can employ to keep your job, maintain your relation with your boss, and yet not be overwhelmed?

When Your Boss Wants You to Be a Workaholic

With great tact and professionalism offer these words, “I’m really over-committed right now, and if I take that on, I can’t do it justice.” Other appropriate responses:

* “I appreciate your confidence in me. I wouldn’t want to take this on knowing my other tasks and responsibilities right now would prohibit me from doing a great job.”

* “I’d be happy to handle this assignment for you but realistically I can’t do it without foregoing some other things I’m working on. Of tasks a and b which would you like me to do? Which can I put aside?”

* “I can do that for you. Will it be okay if I get back to you in the middle of next week? I currently have blank, blank, and blank in the queue.”

* “The number of tasks and complexity of assignments I’m handling is mounting. Perhaps we could look at a two or four week scenario of what’s most important to you, and when the assignments need to be completed, versus what I can realistically handle over that time period.”

Flexibility Matters

All the while, stay as flexible as possible. Frequently, your responsibilities and assignments will change. Your ability to adapt to your boss’s needs will go a long way in helping you flourish at your position,  and diminish the feelings of being overwhelmed.

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Jeff Davidson is the world's only holder of the title "The Work-Life Balance Expert®" as awarded by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. He is the premier thought leader on work-life balance, integration, and harmony. Jeff speaks to organizations that seek to enhance their overall productivity by improving the effectiveness of their people. He is the author of Breathing Space, Simpler Living, Dial it Down, and Everyday Project Management. Visit www.BreathingSpace.com for more information on Jeff's keynote speeches and seminars, including: Managing the Pace with Grace® * Achieving Work-Life Balance™ * Managing Information and Communication Overload®



 
 
 

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Business

Smart Move in a Rough Economy: Help Your Boss to Shine

Stay on top of your job, your department’s goals, and your company’s objectives

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Making your boss look good can only reflect favorably on you. Both your boss and his or her supervisors will appreciate this.

The best way to make your boss look good is to handle your work efficiently and thoroughly. If your boss is fair, he or she will give you credit for the work, increasing your chances of promotion.

If your boss is not doing his or her share of the work, leaning on you unfairly without giving you the credit, it’s still likely that you’ll be promoted when your boss is promoted. That person knows you’ve been doing more than your share, and he or she won’t be able to take a new position without your help.

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Becoming a Mentor to Others

Maybe you’re only 27 years old, or perhaps you’ve only been with your present firm for a year and a half. Yet, with your previous experience and achievements, you may already be in a position to serve as a mentor to junior members of your organization. This can be accomplished on an informal, ad hoc basis, and you can literally choose the amount of energy you’re willing to commit. Helping junior members always looks good to those above you, especially at performance review time.

Stay on top of your job, your department’s goals, and your company’s objectives. This three-way strategy includes reviewing your job description, deciding precisely what your department’s goals are, and determining your company’s objectives:

Your Job Description

First, knowing your job description and honoring it, or amending it if necessary, protect you from any misunderstandings. It will also give you an idea of the part you play in the total picture of the organization, an important factor in your work satisfaction and chance of promotion.

Your job description ideally contains all the important activities of your position, the knowledge you need to have or acquire to perform those activities, and some sense of your overall role. If your job description does not adequately detail the information you need to know and the responsibilities you have, now is the time to change it.

Company Goals

Second, learn and understand the goals of your part of the company. By whatever method your organization is broken into groups — department, division, project team — your group has objectives.

Goals are important to guide actions as well as to mark milestones. Knowing your group’s goals will help you to set priorities for your own work and make wise decisions concerning how jobs can best be done.

What is the Mission?

Finally, be aware of your organization’s mission. Any organization, from the smallest business to the multibillion-dollar corporation, has a mission. If you don’t already know it, find out. Your organization’s brochure, annual report, promotional literature, or employee handbook will have the mission spelled out.

The mission will unify and give meaning to all the division or department goals. Although conflicts among divisions will occur because of the nature of different responsibilities, a solid base can be produced when all employees realize the overall mission of the organization.

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Business

Lessons of the 2020s: Unanticipated Events Happen

Unforeseen tasks that arise represent intrusions on our mental and emotional state of being as well as on our time

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By now, nearly everyone has mentally marked the first few years of this decade as strange and, for those on the right, entirely upsetting. While we can’t guard against the unknown, or anticipate radical moves emanating from Washington DC, we can seek to do our best with what we have and what we know.

Each day when you compose your to-do list and begin proceeding merrily down it, do you take into account what is likely to occur in the course of a day? No matter how well we organize our lists and how productive we are in handling the products and tasks unexpected obligations, interruptions, and other developments arise that are going to throw us off.

How do you react when you are humming along, and all of a sudden, you get an assignment from out of left field? Perhaps your boss has asked you to jump on something immediately. Maybe a client calls. Maybe something gets returned to you that you thought was complete.

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To Be Flustered No More

If you are like most professionals, you immediately will become flustered. The intrusion on your time and your progress means that you are not going to accomplish all that you set out to before the end of the day. Is there a way to proceed and still feel good about all that you accomplish?

I believe there is, and it involves first making a miniature, supplemental to-do list that accurately encapsulates the new task that you need to handle. Why create this supplemental to-do list? It gives you focus and direction, reduces anxiety, and increases the probability that you will remain buoyant at the time of its completion and be able to turn back to what you were doing before the task was assigned.

If you don’t compose such a list, and simply plow headlong into the unexpected challenge that has come your way, you might not proceed effectively, and you might never get back to the to-do list on which you were working.

Anticipating the Unexpected

Unforeseen tasks that arise represent more than intrusions on our time; they represent intrusions on our mental and emotional state of being. Some people are naturally good at handling unexpected situations. Most of us, however, are not wired like this. Interruptions and intrusions on our workday take us off the path that we wanted to follow, and tend to be at least momentarily upsetting.

So… when executing the items on your to-do list, proceed ‘knowing’ that there will be an interruption of some sort. You don’t know when it is coming or how large it will be, but it will pull you off course. The key question for you is: can you develop the capacity to maintain balance and equanimity in the face of such disruptions?

The good news is that you can, and it all starts with acknowledging that the situation is likely to happen, devising a supplemental checklist to handle the new task, and as deftly as possible, returning to what you were doing.

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