Simple Answers? Hardly.
There are no simple answers to these questions. One thing is for certain: this isn’t just in your imagination. It’s real. VERY real and not to be trifled with. Don’t believe me? Ask the leader on the other side of burnout who lost everything that mattered (peace, spouse, children, freedom, true identity) while achieving what didn’t (the property, the promotion, the practice, the prestige, the power).
While there are many ideas and things you should try when stopping the momentum of burnout or trying to recover, one size does not fit all. It’s a common frustration for those suffering from it. It feels like nothing works or maybe more appropriately, nothing works quickly enough. The amount of time it took getting to burnout or enduring it, will correlate to the amount of time it will take to recover. It’s not a one-to-one relationship, but you aren’t going to repair the damage done overnight. There’s no 12-step program or 30 days to recovery. Figuratively, some of you are going to “walk with a limp” for a while and possibly longer than you imagined.
There are a lot of resources out there that talk about burnout. Some of them are very good and helpful. A frequent criticism is that many of those resources are woefully lacking on recovery from burnout. As a friend of mine says “Anyone can diagnose burnout, but no one knows you and what recovery will look like for your experience.” Consider this as you listen to this episode. I’m not supplying solutions, but some very good ideas that you can consider.
This Won’t Work
- being pushed or told to get over it and move on
- telling yourself or others telling you to “man up”, “rub some dirt on it”, or “stop being so sensitive”
- drinking another pot of coffee or take any kind of stimulant in an attempt to restore some of that lost energy and zeal
- self-medicating with drugs, alcohol, food, sex, etc…
These aren’t solutions and they will leave you with a great deal of frustration and potential harm. Unfortunately, it takes a long time for folks to come to the realization that they are contending with this insidious destroyer. Often, it’s only in hindsight that we recognize the toll that burnout took.
What You Must Do Today
- Recognize it
- Take action
The whole point of this podcast is to equip you to lead well. I believe it’s my duty, my responsibility, to make you aware of the dangers and help you and your team to navigate the dangerous road. Most of our corporations, schools, non-profits, churches, and hospitals are filled with driven people with a vision. Something so big it could never be accomplished in several lifetimes, let alone the one you have been given. There’s always one more report to file, patient to see, paper to grade, parishioner to visit, phone call to return or email requiring a response.
Many leaders, especially those who haven’t dealt with burnout, have zero ideas of how to help their people through this. You owe it to yourself to develop the insight to recognize it – for self-preservation, but also for the preservation of your team.
Taking What It Can Get
I’ve shared this analogy several times and it’s appropriate here again. There is nothing malicious or evil about what a business will take from you as an employee. The job of any business is to maximize the utilization of its assets. The higher that the mean time between failure (MTBF) is for a piece of equipment, the better. If I get 96% utilization out of one piece of equipment and 69% out of another similar piece of equipment, then comparatively, I have to wonder why one is doing so much better than another.
I will work to extract maximum value from my assets. You do this on a personal level as well. Most people don’t want to buy a new car every few months. When a big purchase is made, you want to maximize the value and utility you get from the car.
People, however, don’t fit this paradigm. but the business can’t distinguish one asset type from another. Maybe you find yourself thinking “How could I have worked 80 hours this week and feel like I haven’t made a dent in my workload?” The reality is that if you work 80, the business will take more. If you work 100, 105 is better. Anyone up for 120 this week? Not enough. There are some very real and essential problems that understaffed and inappropriately resourced businesses need to address. The point here is not what needs to be fixed, but the reality that it will take as much as you give it and not be satisfied.
The Most Important Two Letters Of The Alphabet
It’s up to you to learn how to say ‘No’. If you don’t master this, one of the shortest words in the English language, you will likely find yourself experiencing burnout. So what exactly are some signs of burnout? Remember, it’s easy to diagnose – more difficult to recover.
Some Signs Of Burnout
Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter is a psychologist and author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout, wrote an article titled The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout … Do You Have Them? for Psychology Today. I’m going to refer to her list of indications that you are facing burnout.
One interesting point here: she notes that most of these symptoms are on a continuum and start out as stressors that lead to burnout. Her definition of burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to:
Physical And Emotional Exhaustion
- Chronic fatigue
- Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention
- Physical symptoms
- Increased illness
- Loss of appetite
Cynicism And Detachment
- Loss of enjoyment
Feelings Of Ineffectiveness And Lack Of Accomplishment
- Feelings of apathy and hopelessness
- Increased irritability
- Lack of productivity and poor performance
If you recognize them early, you can act to reduce their impact. How?
Burnout Is Not A Terminal Condition
Although it certainly requires a change in lifestyle, once you recognize it and act, you can alter the course. Dr. Shimi Kang, a Vancouver-based psychiatrist and frequent speaker on the subject of workplace and mental health says how you live and the choices you make also affect burnout. She recommends making sure your daily life includes the following:
Dr. Bourg Carter adds these to the list:
- Make a list of all the situations that cause you to feel stressed, anxious, worried, frustrated, and helpless
- Next to each item on the inventory, write down at least one way to modify that situation to reduce its stress, and then begin implementing them into your routine
- Delegate as many things as possible
- Take breaks between big projects
- Turn off electronic devices
- Resist the urge to take work home
- Reinforce effort, not outcome
- Consider a support group
My heart goes out to you today. It was not my intention to offer some trite formula to fix this all up and make you better. I sincerely want to offer you hope. Burnout is not the end. It’s a chance to restart and do things differently. Be patient with yourself as the progress will be slower than you wish.
Next week I’ll talk about stress, so don’t forget to listen in – maybe we can reduce the impact of burnout by changing how we look at stress. Come back and find out.
Resources Mentioned In This Episode:
The Tell Tale Signs of Burnout…Do You Have Them? by Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter in Psychology Today
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