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Bouncing Back From Burnout

Burnout has reached epidemic proportions in the U.S.

Key points

  • A significant number of U.S. employees are exhibiting signs of burnout.
  • Corporate culture continues to play a crucial role in burnout prevention.
  • Slowing down at work can spark our creativity and focus; here are two ways to stem the tide of burnout.
  • Having a best friend at work contributes greatly to our mental health.

We’re not just a burned-out nation. We’re a burned-out world. The crushing burden of the global pandemic, coupled with an increased pace of life, has pushed many of us beyond our limits. In our attempts to manage today’s world, we’ve reached a tipping point that’s neither sustainable nor constructive. And it shows.

Organizations are scrambling to recover from the crippling effects of the coronavirus and its hold on the world economy. Hybrid work models are replacing full-time office attendance; families are often teetering between online learning, stranded adult children living at home again, and relentless work demands.

According to Jennifer Moss, author of the new release The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It, organizational structures are the primary culprits contributing to burnout at work. She makes a plea for leaders to develop happier workplace cultures to support resilience, creativity, and people’s natural curiosity. Paula Davis, the author of Beating Burnout at Work, agrees that the work environment itself holds the secret to well-being and resilience in the form of great teams.

Joe Sanok, the author of the new book Thursday is the New Friday, claims that slowing down at work makes us more productive, thus sparking that much-needed creativity and focus to feel good about the work we do. He emphasizes setting boundaries in both the personal and professional realms to reimagine how we get work done. It starts with taking control of our time and reinventing ourselves in new ways.

Used with permission from Joe Sanok
Source: Used with permission from Joe Sanok

Burnout, a stress-induced condition marked by exhaustion, cynicism, and professional inefficacy, is a silent syndrome. Sadly, most people don’t even notice its gradual grip over their lives until it’s too late. By then, external intervention is necessary to move burnout patients toward positive change.

According to the 2021 Mind the Workplace Report, most employees surveyed between February 13, 2020, and September 9, 2020, experienced signs of burnout, stating they were not receiving the necessary support to manage their stress levels. Workplace stress contributed significantly to employees’ poor mental health.

Davis views the source of burnout in various areas, including our lack of autonomy, support, recognition, and connection with colleagues. She offers solutions such as meaningful work, role clarity, and a sense of personal agency over the work we do. It helps to have a best friend at the workplace too.

What causes burnout

Apart from the obvious added stress that the pandemic has caused, the reasons for burnout can be found in the overwhelming technological, social, and economic transformations in the last two generations. People have lost their sense of purpose in life. With so many choices and deconstruction of social roles, men and women throughout the world have lost their sense of orientation.

A slow-creeping form of exhaustion accumulated over years of perfectionism, stress, and overwhelm, burnout is not reserved for the highest-ranking professionals or celebrities, although theirs is perhaps most visible. Burnout can happen to anyone at any time. Current research shows that organizational change must occur to protect employees from burnout.

In general, people who work more than 40 hours a week are six times more likely to reach burnout than those who work fewer hours. Perfectionists are more susceptible to burnout than other personality types, although personality alone cannot explain its pervasiveness today.

As we continue to push the limits of our own capacity, many of us are beginning to realize that we are never going to be as fast, perfect, or precise as the machines that serve us. Yet we still engage in a race against time, against ourselves and others to sharpen that competitive edge that soon becomes a double-edged sword, slicing us down the middle of our very being. Burnout ensues, our lives unravel, and many who tread that path find it increasingly difficult to return to a place of true joy.

How to overcome burnout

But there is hope. Joy can be generated in myriad ways.

1. Resilience is something you can learn.

It starts with a simple exercise in gratitude. Name one thing for which you are grateful every day for one month. Write it down in a journal to keep track on those days you need it most. It will help you shift your mindset toward the positive things in your life.

2. Allow yourself a moment of joy every day.

Beyond your gratitude list, do one good thing for yourself every day. Self-care matters. You do too.

3. Joy is contagious—in a good way.

Smile at a stranger. See what happens. Even with a mask on, your eyes convey kindness. Pass it on.

4. Spend time in nature.

It is a well-worn truth that time outside lifts your mood. Take a walk through the woods. Hug a tree in the park. Take a deep breath as you stroll through a garden.

5. Breathe.

We have forgotten how. Take five cleansing belly breaths when you feel the tension rise. The extra oxygen in your blood will help you focus and calm your mind.

6. Connect with those you love.

Even if you are far apart geographically, take a moment to reach out. Sharing your thoughts with others helps tremendously.

We are the masters of our own lives, no matter how impossible it may seem at times. As burnout cases rise, organizations are starting to recognize the importance of mental health as a cornerstone of workplace culture. We can stem the tide of burnout collectively. In fact, it will take all of us to do so.

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