September 05, 2023
Burnout [And How To Avoid It]
All of us experience burnout to some degree at least once in our lives. We get so caught up in work and lose ourselves or forget how to ease back or understand that we should step away for a bit. As long as we recognize the signs early enough we have a better chance of solving the problem. This week, let's discuss burnout and how to avoid it. First up though are the causes and the dangers of letting it go too far.
Causes of burnout
1. Overwork – The obvious first cause. You've just spent too much time on or at the job, and your body/mind has had enough.
2. Work-life unbalance – This is similar to the above but different in that you don't enjoy the personal time off when you have it. There may not be enough activities for you to enjoy (keep reading for tips on this) or because you're worrying about work.
3. Stressful conditions – Family or personal issues when you're not at work affect your work. Stress also can be experienced in the workplace due to numerous things such as looming deadlines, too much work, a demanding supervisor, and problems with coworkers.
4. Wellness issues – In some cases, illness either physical or mental, could be a cause for burnout. Working “under the weather” puts extra strain on the reserves. Stress from outside the workplace (family emergencies, etc.) could put extra mental pressure on an individual, hampering focus and concentration. (Yes, I even have a tip to help this. Keep reading.)
Dangers of burnout
If you think burnout is not a big deal then it's likely you've experienced it to a small degree, have overcome what you did experience quickly enough, or have used the later tips and other solutions to avoid the problem. However, without treatment or resolution, burnout can be a serious concern.
1. Physical and mental exhaustion – This is the most likely result. You're tired all the time. You can't focus or enjoy life. You wake up tired. The further danger here is some people think the solution to this is too much coffee or caffeine in the morning and some type of aid for sleep in the evening, whether that involves alcohol or medication.
2. Decreased productivity and performance – Of course, if you're experiencing burnout, you're not being the best you can be at work. Productivity suffers. You're missing deadlines. You're making mistakes (the next point). On certain jobs, mistakes lead to safety issues for yourself and coworkers.
3. Increased errors and mistakes – When you aren't focusing and "stressing out" you make errors. Rushing to make deadlines. Rushing to complete the project to get to the next one. Errors only delay completion and lead to more frustration which leads to further errors.
4. Chronic fatigue and insomnia – Chronic fatigue was something that's been recognized for several decades. The first recollection I had that this condition existed was an episode of The Golden Girls where Bea Arthur's character had a problem no one could diagnose. For further information on this see the article from the CDC.
Referring to the first point, just because you're physically and mentally tired does not mean you'll get enough sleep or get the restorative sleep you need. We've all had the issue where we're just exhausted physically and the body is protesting that it needs sleep…yet we can't fall asleep. "Too tired to sleep."
The same is true when the mind wants to rest but won't stop thinking about work or home problems.
5. Reduced immune system function – Stress the body and it has to work harder to fight off illness. How often have you seen stressed, tired, or overworked people come down with colds, respiratory problems, etc.? Burnout brings further physical maladies.
6. Emotional and mental health issues – You're already stressed, now you're anxious because you're worrying about the problems at home and work. A further danger is that you'll get to a point where you believe there is no solution and become depressed. That leads to more physical and mental problems.
7. Detachment and disengagement from work and personal life – It's the feeling that you want to run away from it all. You'll hole up in the basement or sit out on the back porch. At work, you'll close the office door and try to avoid coworkers.
8. Increased risk of physical health problems - Beyond the immune system allowing in minor illnesses, burnout risks more serious matters such as heart disease and gastrointestinal issues.
9. Strained relationships with coworkers and loved ones – Because you're distancing yourself from these people, the relationship with them suffers.
10. Difficulty concentrating and making decisions – This brings back the lack of focus that relates to earlier dangers. You can't concentrate on the work, so when decisions are needed, you have trouble choosing.
11. Loss of motivation and passion for work – Hey, we all have those days where we'd rather stay home, sleep, read a book, or go fishing. That feeling may be a very early sign of burnout. While we joke about it a lot, be aware of a developing problem if that feeling persists. Burnout will give you the "motivation" to stay home, to not care if the job gets done. You'll use up sick or personal time.
12. Increased irritability and mood swings – When the body and mind are affected, so too are your personality and mood. You'll snap at coworkers or loved ones. As seen above, the swing the other way will lead toward depression.
13. Feelings of helplessness and lack of control – Part of the mental problems is the mindset that you can't do anything about burnout, that you can't get out of the downward spiral.
14. Impaired memory and cognitive function – More serious mental functions can be a danger if burnout is allowed to progress too long. This is not just a lack of focus or unable to make decisions. This moves further into the red zone of serious damage.
15. Neglected self-care and increased risk of unhealthy coping mechanisms (e.g., substance abuse) – This was mentioned earlier with insomnia and exhaustion problems. One of the dangers is choosing the incorrect solution to avoid burnout.
16. Decreased job satisfaction and career disillusionment – This goes along with point 11. Because you're working too hard or too long without proper balance, you're not going to like the job anymore. Also, you're not seeing any advancement opportunities or how to move to something better.
17. Higher likelihood of job turnover and burnout cycles in future roles – Because of the above, the supervisor may not see the burnout problem. Your work issues may be viewed as slacking off or the inability or unwillingness to do the job. Loss of job may result. Furthermore, if you can't solve the burnout in one job, then the cycle may repeat itself in the next.
How to avoid burnout
Fortunately, there are solutions to all phases and intensities of burnout. As with any illness or disease, the earlier you start "treatment" for burnout, the better chance for success.
1. Maintain a healthy work-life balance – Obviously, this is the logical first step. Learn to work the job when it's needed and recognize when it's time to go home and leave work at work. As will be later discussed, home life must be filled with enough of the correct activity to counteract any stress at work.
2. Prioritize self-care and make time for relaxation - This includes setting a sleep schedule. Can you get that extra hour in on the weekend? Sure but during the working days, set and keep a schedule. Go to bed at the same time every night and get up at the same time every morning. Resist the urge to hit that snooze button.
Even home life needs relaxation time. This includes getting some time for yourself, away from family and neighbors. A nap, a good book out on the patio, a swim in the pool, or other things that just let you relax by yourself.
3. Set realistic goals and expectations for yourself – I know the job has to be done. However, you have to understand your limitations. If there's a problem meeting deadlines or you feel you're being overworked, then talk to the supervisor. Maybe that person doesn't realize the load you're trying to carry. Work out solutions.
4. Practice effective time management – One of the solutions for the above is time management. Plan and schedule your day. Lay out what you want to accomplish during your work hours. Doing this helps you see the areas for improvement and perhaps the fact that there is no way you're going to finish X in the time period allowed. Is overtime bad? No. Sometimes it's necessary, but watch the amount of overtime. You'll be feeling that burn[out] if you're constantly doing 80+ hours per week.
5. Take regular breaks throughout the workday - Every twenty minutes look away from the computer for twenty seconds. Take a ten-minute walk every two hours. Refill the water bottle. Get a snack. Go chat with coworkers. Power nap. Some companies schedule ten-minute breaks to help avoid too much stress.
6. Delegate tasks when possible and seek support from colleagues – If the in-box is stacked a foot high, can you pass off some of that work? Yes, you have your duties and responsibilities, but can you remove some of the shoulder load and give some of the smaller projects to someone else?
7. Identify and address sources of stress or conflict in the workplace – It may be overwork, but the stress and burnout may come from other sources. These include coworkers, outside distractions (that year-long street construction for example), or environmental issues. Office temperature. Inadequate lighting. Air quality.
8. Seek opportunities for professional development and growth – Maybe it's time to move up on the corporate ladder. Burnout can come from being at one stage too long. Consider further education or on-the-job training to do something different at the company.
9. Stay organized and maintain a structured approach to tasks – Practice the aforementioned time management.
10. Foster positive relationships and connections with coworkers - Consider "fun" time at work. A potluck might be a solution. Organize fun games for employees to play for some friendly competition. Find activities that will get people away from their desks for a while. These would go beyond the ten-minute break times.
11. Avoid excessive overtime or over-committing yourself – Yes, again, the job needs to get done, but learn to say no. Watch those OT hours so they don't build up. You're ruining solution number one.
12. Take regular vacations or time off to recharge and rejuvenate – Dude, just get away from it all. Take a personal day. Or two. A week away from work on a genuine vacation helps restore the balance at work and home.
13. Regularly assess your work environment and job satisfaction, and make necessary adjustments or changes – This goes back to solution seven, but make it a regular habit.
14. Get a new job – There may be a time to just get out and do something new.
15. Engage in regular physical exercise or movement - Many companies have fitness centers. Otherwise, some form of exercise helps relieve stress. Walking, running, weights, yoga, martial arts, etc.
16. Incorporate activities or hobbies that bring you joy and fulfillment outside of work - Do you play basketball? Bowl? Tennis? Home projects? Reading, writing, charity work, etc.
17. Practice mindfulness or meditation to reduce stress and increase focus – This goes back to the part about getting some alone time. There are practical ways to relax.
18. Set boundaries between work and personal life, including digital boundaries - Get off that computer. Avoid social media. Avoid controversial discussions when on social media. As for the first part of this solution, know what is work and what is home. Never the twain shall meet.
19. Seek help - Talk with family/friends to relieve stress. Ask for suggestions. If needed, consider medical/therapy support.
The more you know about burnout, the causes, the dangers, and the solutions, the better you deal with it. Recognize the warning signs and take measures to reduce and eliminate burnout before it becomes a serious problem.
This message is brought to you by the folks at Mapcon Technologies who have been helping organize maintenance management with a world-class CMMS for over forty years. It's our way of helping to keep your operations running smoothly, reducing burnout conditions. Mapcon / 800-922-4336