Burnout: The Signs & What To Do About It
In august 2021, one of my past clients reached out asking to book a session with me, “something is wrong but I don’t have the words to articulate it” Almost 3 years ago this client became the CEO of a company that was on the verge of bankruptcy. He's a talented, experienced, capable and ambitious man, and so he embraced the challenge with both hands. Then Covid hit… soon enough he found himself fighting to keep the business afloat. In our session he shared with me that he’s feeling lost. He doesn't feel like himself - he lost his drive, he’s snappy, impatient, irritable, he’s unable to focus and delegate, and struggles making decisions. When we did an overall life assessment he revealed that in the last two years he had taken only three weeks off and even then he was working. The picture became clear. He was burnt out. He was drained. His nervous system was in overdrive. But it wasn’t only overworking that was leading to my client’s burnout. It was a combination of mental, emotional and spiritual factors that brought him to that point. Once we were able to identify the specific causes, we could come up with a recovery and replenishment plan. If you’re still reading this, my guess is that some of this resonates with you. Either you or someone you know is experiencing some of these symptoms (which doesn't necessarily means you're burnt out). My intention is to provide you with more information so you can have a better understanding of what burnout is and some steps you might want to take. But, an email isn’t a coaching or a therapy session. If you’re struggling right now, make sure you seek appropriate support.
As established above, burnout isn’t solely due to poor coping strategies on the individuals part, but rather happens due to a combination of:
On a large scale, our societal mental models of success (status, money, only stress and overwork leads to success, lack of sleep worn as a badge of honour, etc.)
Stressful environment (organisational and other stressors outside of work, i.e. a challenging caregiving situation)
Team culture (hustle mentality, unhealthy competition, role ambiguity, pressure to perform, etc.)
Individual choices (mindset, habits, personality factors)
On an individual level, Dr. Jacinta M. Jiménez describes burnout as “a result of mismatch between the nature of our work and our capacity as humans." This isn't necessarily the case of our capacity to meet our work-load, but, as Dr. Jacinta M. Jiménez breaks it down, there are 6 mismatches between our human capacity and our jobs:
Values - The organisation isn’t moving forward in a direction that aligns with your own personal core values
Fairness - Inequity in work-pay, inappropriate handling of promotions or evaluations, etc.
Workload - A mismatch in what we need to do (i.e. the deadline and the resources we have to do it. It could be people, not enough human capital, financial resources, etc.)
Reward - One of the things that bring us, humans, a sense of meaning and fulfilment is growing and making progress in our lives. We want to feel appreciated for the work we do. If we aren’t being rewarded (financially, socially or intrinsically), given credit or acknowledged, we often feel like we’re making no progress and we don't see opportunities for growth.
Community - we are wired to connect, to be part of a community, to feel like we belong. It’s vital for our wellbeing. If we feel very lonely at work and don’t have a friend to confide in, it can take its toll.
Control - Not being given the appropriate level of responsibility or having access to the tools needed to do your job well can limit your sense of control. Uncontrollable events can significantly affect motivation.
Any change we want to create in our lives starts with awareness, we can’t change what we’re not aware of. Therefore the first step is to recognise burnout and understand what are the contributing factors. Identify which of the 6 mismatches above are causing the burnout. Once you have the awareness, you can evaluate your situation, seek support (you may want to reach out to your manager or talk with HR, and / or get support outside of work) and create a recovery and replenishment plan based on your specific mismatches and your own unique circumstances. Like with most things, there’s no one-size-fits-all when it comes to recovering and preventing burnout. Most often it'll include setting uncomfortable boundaries, prioritising sleep and self care, and/or exploring ways you can feel some level of control over your life. It may require asking for help. It may also mean leaving a job. On a collective level, we have a rare opportunity in this moment in history, to redefine success, alongside the way we work and live. To prioritise meaning and value. To prioritise our wellbeing and our loved ones. And to find the work that allows us to do exactly that. There are real-life-responsibilities, there are mouths to feed and bills to pay, but there are human bodies and souls that deserve to experience both ease and vibrancy. In the words of Arianna Huffington “People are waking up to the value of living lives that allow them to connect with themselves and nurture their well-being and resilience. They’re waking up from the collective delusion that burnout is the price we have to pay for success.” The balancing of work and life is the project of living. We need to be more mindful of the things that bring us happiness and meaning, and pursue them with confidence and zeal. Onwards, Love, Naama