Burnout is an organizational problem. The implications of that research-based conclusion should give every leader a moment of pause. It defines the stifling experience of burnout not as the result of an individual’s shortcomings, but as a symptom of failed leadership. However, cause and cure sometimes diverge. Once burnout has set in, recovery is most likely when the individual affected fights it themselves.
Fighting Burnout as an Individual
Burnout manifests in one or more of these three ways: 1) physical and/or mental exhaustion; 2) social isolation; 3) low self-esteem. Each of these can be debilitating, even on its own. However, every individual has the power and the capacity to push back and regain control of their life. The first step is to understand and identify which of the three aspects relate to their experience of burnout.
In the case of physical and mental exhaustion, researchers have found that deliberate acts of self-care are the most effective counter. The act itself does not have to be elaborate nor lengthy. A massage, your favorite meal, or even something as innocuous as a short nap can work wonders of rejuvenation. Note, the focus here is on the self.
That approach is reversed when dealing with the second variation of burnout, social isolation. Here, the focus should be on connecting externally instead. Engage in simple acts of kindness towards others; ask a colleague about their day, do someone a favor. This will build interpersonal bonds with the individuals around you and foster a sense of belonging to the community at large, too. It is a basic psychological exercise that shows the mind that you are not alone or isolated.
The third possible symptom of burnout is low self-esteem. Countering this involves a combination of both the earlier tactics—kindness to others as well as validation of self. The key here is to appreciate the value that is intrinsically within you. It could be through your ability to help someone on a project or to complete one yourself.
Both scenarios tell your brain that you have something to contribute. It is much easier to stave off burnout when you can consciously perceive your potential for positive impact.
Aiding the Fight as an Organization
While our focus has been on the individual’s ability to pull themselves out of the burnout spiral, it is not an absolution of leaders’ responsibilities for employee welfare. The adage “prevention is better than cure” certainly holds true here.
It is in every organization’s best interests to create a supportive work environment that meets the mental health needs of its employees. Not only does this increase productivity, but it also insulates the company against unnecessary health costs and lost hours.
One of the simplest ways that you can contribute is to give employees the knowledge to self-diagnose. If they can recognize a descent towards burnout, they are more likely to take corrective measures before it degenerates into a full-blown case.
Are you personally or is your organization facing burnout? Please contact me today to discuss this issue further.