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beating burnout

May 24th 2021

Are you dashing between work and home, throwing the kids out of the car to school and childcare with food on your clothes and running into meetings trying to catch your breath?

For some, this will sound all too familiar!

Despite a growth in wellbeing programs in workplaces, Suzi McAlpine in her book Beyond Burnout argues we have a culture of overwork in New Zealand. We’re also ashamed or embarrassed to admit we’re burnt out, and usually soldier on.

There’s also an element of pride that drives burnt-out New Zealanders to keep working at a dangerous pace. 

So what is burnout exactly, how are we led to it and how can we attempt to remedy it?

Burnout describes a severe stress condition that leads to severe physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion.

McAlpine says there are six areas that can lead to burnout and discusses how you can attempt to remedy each one. These factors are:

Workload – When you have a workload that is aligned with your capacity, you can effectively achieve your daily tasks, have the opportunity to rest and recover, and find time for professional growth and development. When you chronically feel overloaded, these opportunities to restore balance fail to exist.

How do we fix it? Plan your workload, time block your calendar to dedicate your energy to a particular task at a particular time rather than having a scattered brain with 1000 different thoughts distracting you. Learn to say NO and let go of perfectionism.

Perceived lack of control – when you experience the feeling of having a lack of autonomy, access to resources or decisions that impact your professional life, this can significantly impact your wellbeing.

How do we fix it? If you find yourself feeling out of control, step back and ask yourself, “What exactly is causing me to feel this way?” For example, do you have no boundaries in place that allows clients to contact you at all hours of the day and night, and make you feel like you need to always be on call? Are the priorities within your workplace constantly shifting so you can never get ahead?

Then ask yourself, what you can do to shift this situation? Set an automatic reply from 5pm (or whatever time you’re meant to finish work) to say you are out of office and will be in touch as soon as you can. Could you come to an agreement that certain priorities will remain constant?

Reward – If the extrinsic and intrinsic rewards for your job don’t match the amount of effort and time you put into them, then you’re likely to feel like the investment is not worth the payoff.

How to remedy this?! In these instances, you want to look within and determine exactly what you would need to feel properly appreciated. For example, perhaps you need to ask for a raise or maybe you need to hear more positive feedback and face time with your boss.

Community – Who do you work with or around? How supportive and trusting are those relationships? In many cases you can’t choose your colleagues and clients, but you can improve the dynamic.

How to remedy this?! It could be as simple as taking the time to ask others how their day is going — and really listening. Or sending an email to someone to let them know you appreciated their support. Burnout can be contagious, so to elevate your individual engagement, you must shift the morale of the group. If you’ve found that once you’ve done all you can, others can’t improve or don’t want improved relationships, then you may want to consider a job change.

Fairness – Think about whether you believe that you receive fair and equitable treatment. For example, do you get acknowledged for your contributions or do other individuals get praised and your work goes unnoticed? Unfair treatment does nothing for our mental state of mind and is a HUGE factor of burnout.

Thoughts on remedying it – If you feel that a lack of fairness exacerbates your burnout, start by speaking up. Sometimes individuals are unaware of their biases or won’t take action until you ask for what you want. You can request to be mentioned as a contributor, to give part of a presentation, or for additional time and resources.

Values mismatch. If you highly value something that your company does not, your motivation to work hard and persevere can significantly drop.

How to remedy this? When you’re assessing this element of burnout, you need to think carefully about how important it is to you to match your values with those of the organization.

Also consider whether the leaders in your company have shifted their values. Look around you and ask yourself: How does my boss, my team, and my organization make decisions and invest resources? Do I feel good about those underlying motivations? Do they seem open to change? If you have strongly held values and those with influence in your organization differ from yours, you may need to look for a more congruent opportunity.

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