I’ve burnout, peeled myself off the floor and now I’m out the other side sharing everything I learned in a bid to make burnout extinct.
Rarely a day passes without hearing a story of someone who has suffered or is suffering from this phenomenon. It feels like LinkedIn is flooded with burnout-tales, recently.
It’s not surprising given the monumentally difficult year we’re all experiencing.
Worries over family, work, health and money, coupled with isolation and continued uncertainty are taking their toll.
Home is work and work is home. Boundaries are blurred and the world is understandably wobbly.
The effect that this prolonged stress is having on the mental health of us humans has been bubbling under the surface and is now demanding our attention.
A recent study showed that 75% of workers have experienced burnout.
Having lived my own whopping-version of it the thought of ¾ of my colleagues going through anything similar is quite honestly horrific.
It makes me both sad and angry but most of all it makes me determined to exterminate it (sounds dramatic but if you know, you know!).
WHAT IS BURNOUT?
Before we can attempt to solve the problem, we need to properly understand it.
And in the current environment where the word ‘burnout’ is being used frequently, it’s normal that the understanding varies and it’s definition morphs.
In fact, I recently spoke to a Startup Founder who said that his team were as likely to use the word to describe being tired at the end of the week as they were to explain a mental health breakdown. And let me tell me you, they are very different.
So, what exactly is burnout?
Since 2019, when it was reclassified by the WHO, it is said that:
“Burnout is a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Workplace stress NOT personal stress, they insist.
Separating the 2 completely is never easy. But following the radical changes COVID inflicted on our work-life boundaries this distinction becomes almost hypothetical.
They go on to explain that burnout is typically characterised by 3 things:
- Feeling depleted or exhausted
- Negativism, cynicism or feeling detached from work
- A sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment.
WHAT ARE THE SIGNS OF BURNOUT?
Those characteristics don’t tell us the whole story, in my opinion. In hindsight, I was displaying loads of other signs that should have gotten my attention, much sooner.
My body was smarter than my ego and gave me signals I was burning out months before I hit my limit and melted into a heap on the floor.
Burnout signs felt like:
- Inexplicable tiredness
- Nausea, gastritis and digestive issues
- Constant headaches
- Muscle spasms in my back, neck, jaw
- Twitching in my eyesTrouble sleeping
- Constant dread about opening emails, messages or interacting with colleagues
Burnout signs looked like:
- Little patience
- Over socialising / Withdrawing
- Undereating / Overeating
- Breakouts and skin complaints
Burnout signs sounded like:
- “Everyone thinks I’m useless.”
- “I’m too [insert every innate personality trait I have].”
- “I’m going to be fired.”
- “I don’t belong here.”
- “Taking a break looks lazy.”
But my ego wasn’t open to this sort of constructive feedback. It didn’t (want to) see I was on the slippery slope to burnout.
Yes, I knew I was stressed. I’d experienced some of these things before. But, I thought they would go once [insert current task] was finished.
We are conditioned to think that work has to be hard to be worthy and that feeling exhausted is normal. Workaholism and struggle are glorified by hustle culture, so we keep pushing.
But this is BS. Or at least it should be.
I wish I’d listened to my body sooner, before the full-scale assault on my sleep which left me awake for 3 weeks (unless heavily sedated).
I ignored the signs until my body left me no option but to stop and stay still for quite some time.
WHAT CAUSES BURNOUT?
Long hours and high workloads definitely stress us out. If left unmanaged, over time they both contribute to burnout. But alone these things are unlikely to push us to the edge.
Just like the signs, the causes are numerous and difficult to define but I’ll have a go for you…
Lack of control
For me a huge factor was a lack of control/autonomy over my work and being pushed to do things that conflicted with my values and sense of self.
Unclear goals & role
This was exacerbated by wishy-washy goals and an environment where my role was passed between managers and contributions therefore overlooked.
Flippant, infrequent appraisals and check-ins heightened my insecurity. Even though my output was “good” the lack of considered feedback was damaging.
Floating between teams left me feeling unsupported. And being the only female in a room full of alpha males, where being outspoken often trumped expertise or experience, was very lonely (and often belittling).
And the final nail in the coffin was ME.
My underlying perfectionism and constant desire to be a high achiever sealed the burnout deal. The worse I felt, the harder I pushed. My boundaries dissipated along with my health until I was unable to move let alone work.
Now we know what burnout is, have a grasp of things that can cause it and understand how it can look sound and feel when our bodies are reaching their limits signs, we can start to take steps to prevent it.
My next posts will share things that you can do for your team or for yourself to PREVENT BURNOUT.
If you are experiencing or have experienced any of these things and would like some support on what to do next drop me an email on [email protected] – I’d love to help.
Each month I share “Things That Help”. A short memo of practical tips and tools to help you remove overwhelm, reach goals and nurture mental health. You can sign up to receive it below