Burnout — a path you should never have to walk
By TRISOFT team
We thought a lot about the title of this article and we are still not sure we picked the right one. Burnout is so complex and challenging that even with all the info at hand, you can still feel a little dizzy and dazzled by the concept. So the best thing to do in such a tricky circumstance is to apply the good old Roman quote — divide and conquer.
Why so tricky? Why so serious?
Well because somehow it seems to affect all of us — even if we love our job, even if we are good at organizing our work, even if we think ourselves masters of our schedules. It’s the epidemic of the modern workplace.
But what is burnout? Experts define it as the mental and physical exhaustion we experience when the demands of our work consistently exceed the amount of energy we have available. And generally the cause is obvious — we are more prone to be hit by burnout than we were 10 years ago because now we are surrounded by devices that are designed to grab our attention and make everything feel urgent. Pressure is what leads us to push our limits beyond our human capabilities sometimes. That’s when we start feeling lethargic, stressed and depleted, when we start to feel that all your efforts are fruitless and we have lost all your enthusiasm.
So let’s explore what causes burnout and how we can overcome it.
What causes burnout
It may be tricky to identify the causes of burnout. That is maybe because we instantly assume that working too hard for too long equals burnout. In reality, researches have discovered that burnout is much more than that. Alexandra Michel, for instance, a science writer at the Association for Psychological Science claims that “burnout results when the balance of deadlines, demands, working hours, and other stressors outstrips rewards, recognition, and relaxation.”
On the same topic, Christina Maslach at Berkeley University of California has put together six major components that can lead to burnout at the workplace:
It seems that when at least a few of these don’t match our needs and expectations, we end up with burnout. And worryingly, the numbers are increasing every year. So it is that the last research conducted by Gallup reported 2.7 million German workers with burnout symptoms. Apparently a work-life imbalance also contributes to job burnout and as much as we would want not to be worried by the numbers, it’s important to emphasize that “burnout is not just a state of mind, but a condition that leaves its mark on the brain as well as the body”(Alexandra Michel).
The risks of burnout
And since we are discussing the risks, let’s see what scientists have to say about those as well.
At the first glance, we might think burnout will only make you sleep a lot on weekends and complain to your friends about the horrors of your workplace. But the risks of burnout run deeper than that.
Research shows that chronic psychosocial stress will eventually impair social as well as personal functioning, will overwhelm your cognitive skills and neuroendocrine system. Over time the effects of burnout can lead to memory, attention, and emotional problems. But it’s not just the brain at risk, it seems. A study of nearly 9,000 workers found burnout significantly increases the risk of coronary heart disease.
That doesn’t sound very optimistic at all now, does it? But the point of this article isn’t to scare you into quitting your job and joining a convent, but to find real solutions to this newly discovered issue.
Tricks to overcome burnout
1. Make a conscious effort to take breaks.
In some workplaces working straight through the day is what the management requires from its employees. And maybe this is the root of all evil, as many managers seem to have it all backwards about the right path to achieve performance. They assume that pushing limits and outworking others will lead them to success, but on the long run it only leads to trouble.
What can really and truly help is restocking your mental energy. How? Well the first thing you can do is take breaks. The old fashioned breaks are more than enough if you don’t forget about them too often. Researches say that every 60 or 90 minutes, a 15 minute break is mandatory. And if you forget about it, you can just set an alarm on your phone as a reminder to get up and move around the office.
2. Take an extended break.
When short breaks don’t seem to cut it anymore, here’s an idea — take a plane to some sunny location and lay on a beach for a few days.
But here is the key: no working tools are allowed. Which means no laptop, no iPad, no cell phone, no nothing. A vacation is a vacation!
3. Get some sleep and exercise.
Along with breaks, sleep and exercise are two important coordinates of a healthy mind. Sometimes when we are sleep deprived we tend to see things gloomier than they really are. So get a good night’s sleep, but try not to exceed 7–8 hours a night. Sleep will help restore well being and will protect your health, but too much sleep can make you groggy.
The same goes for exercise. Regular physical activity can improve your stress level and will help take your mind off work and focused on something else. Don’t overdo it, though, especially if you are just starting.
4. Adjust your attitude.
Sometimes the burnout symptoms we are feeling can be well adjusted by shifting our own outlook on things.
Maybe it would help rediscovering our daily work activities, asking for new or different tasks to change the routine, taking a minute to appreciate our colleagues for their work and to see the glass half full for a change. A real effort to see things more optimistically can be fruitful if done from the heart.
5. Do what you enjoy.
Now here is one for the records — if you don’t like your job, the risk of rapidly going into burnout is ten times higher. This happens because you aren’t motivated to do your work and you become resentful. Also, even if you are doing what you love, but you still don’t have time for your hobbies and passions or your job is making you miss out on time spent with your family or friends, resentment can still make an appearance.
In order to avoid this resentment turning into burnout, a scientist called Mayer says it’s important to know what you care about most and schedule time for those activities.
6. Find meaning in your work.
Finding meaning in your work can just be the missing puzzle piece. Make an effort to identify the most challenging and appealing aspects of your job and invest more into those.
Maybe you can talk to your manager and let him know that you intend to better align your responsibilities with your strengths and interests. This will be a step forward to diminish burnout by enjoying yourself more at work.
7. Change organizations or career paths.
Sometimes however, despite our best efforts, nothing we will try or do will loosen the feeling that we are trapped. And when this happens, there is no shame in totally reconsidering your job or even your field of work.
It might be your only chance to get a fresh start and recover. It so happens that some jobs, by their nature, require more efforts and are more tiring and stressful than others. If they don’t suit you, there are others that do for sure.
Facing with burnout, nothing seems enjoyable anymore. Our experience tells us that looking after ourselves is the first and best step towards healing. That includes focusing on a healthy daily schedule — sleep, meals, breaks and a little exercise. Managing your energy better would be a second step.
And if all else fails, it may be an indicator that you need to permanently leave the situation you are in. Think about your dreams and what you really want to be in life and then make up a plan to get there.
At TRISOFT, we believe in managing our energy better. Here are 3 tips that proved efficient for us:
1. Start with your most important and difficult to-dos.
2. Use coffee for enhancement, not compensation for lack of rest.
3. Learn to say “No” to the projects that are not important or you don’t have time for.