August 7, 2020

Signs you’re on the path to Burnout – and how to come back

We’re nearly a month along the path of isolation, quarantine, and full-on lockdown for some. And many are trying as best they can to maintain a somewhat ‘business and family as usual’ approach while preserving a full-time job and full-time home responsibilities.

With an abundance of information and advice, a plethora of suggestions on what to do with all your downtime, how to home school your kids, the best home workouts, recipes, books, online courses, and what to read, cook, watch, and purge from your closets and garages…it can all be a little too much.

When you do have an opportunity to sit back, take a breath, and ponder the new normal, do you think you are close to burning out?

Before our worlds were turned upside down burnout was predominantly considered to be either job-induced OR family care induced. Now, many people are doing both simultaneously.

Those who have historically had very defined work /home hours are struggling to set boundaries between their professional and personal lives. Bring in a fear of job security and a desire to show loyalty as a team player, and they feel like they must be ‘on’ all the time. Weekdays blur into evenings that morph into weekends.

Now add in the daily home responsibilities of childcare and/or eldercare, schooling, and safety as other full-time unpaid jobs. Both employers and employees should not only be concerned about productivity dip but full-on burnout leading to a productivity halt.

Coined by the psychologist, Herbert Freudenberger in the 1970s’, burnout describes a severe stress condition that leads to severe physical, mental and emotional exhaustion.

Definition: burnout – It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. Extreme tiredness or a feeling of not being able to work anymore, caused by working too hard:

Long and unprecedented work hours have led to burnout and frustration.

Check the signs that may indicate you’re headed into burnout mode:

Your mind does not quiet down, you’re always thinking, analyzing, reflecting on work, family needs, and the safety and security of both. With so much on your ever-active mind, you feel a sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment. The more you complete the more things come to you. Highly effective people tend to take more on, then crash over time.

Physical and emotional exhaustion yet you are not making sleep a priority. You get less than the seven suggested hours, your downtime is blurred, and you can’t maintain any sort of sleep /wake schedule.

Smartphone and laptop addiction that makes you feel like you are not doing enough. Besides comparing the books your friends have time to read, you constantly check in on health news updates, work emails, and school demands. The thought of keeping still means you’ve dropped the ball in one or more areas of your multi-role existence.

Feeling detached from colleagues and family. It’s become too much to keep up with; negative thoughts about family, work, and health that lead to a sense that you don’t want to deal with any of it.

Together, these warning signs could lead to an inability to effectively function on a personal and professional level.

If you recognize the signs that lead to burnout, make some changes to prevent it from progressing:

Exercise, that won’t overwhelm or add more ‘work’ to your load. Start with short walks that you can make into a daily routine. Not only is exercise good for physical health, but it can also give you an emotional boost. Just make sure to keep it simple. There’s no need to spend money on equipment or spend hours searching through YouTube home workout videos that just adds to the work-load.

If eating a balanced diet sounds like too much work since you are also the full-time home cook, keep it simple. A diet filled with omega-3 fatty acids can be a natural antidepressant. Adding foods like flaxseed oil, chia seeds, walnuts, and fish may help give your mood a boost. Many of which can just be mixed into prepared foods or sprinkled on top. Then add in greens, spinach or brussels sprouts.

Get into a solid sleep routine. Our bodies need time to rest and reset, which is why healthy sleep habits are essential for our well-being. When you are splitting shifts with a partner at home for childcare or eldercare, try and get some rest when it’s not your turn. Try working in the evening if it’s more conducive to your home needs. Avoid caffeine before sleeping, establish a relaxing pre-sleep ritual, and turn off smartphones before you hit the pillow.

As we all navigate this challenging time it’s important to know you are not the only one on the path to burnout so ask for help. It can be as simple as asking your partner to share the home responsibilities, your employer to off-shift hours and your kids (if able) to help with clean-up or meal prep. If asking for assistance feels difficult, consider developing a self-care “check-in” with close friends and family members where you don’t talk shop – this can help you all during trying times.

So, what can employers, managers, and coworkers do to help one another cope?

As a leader, you may also be feeling like you are on your way to burning out. Be honest with yourself and recognize the signs above. Employees will understand if you too need to re-adjust and realign as you work remotely and juggle, just as they do.

Understanding that we are all in unusual circumstances, is a time to realign priorities. As an employer, listening to employees’ concerns, validating their emotions, and offering specific types of support and understanding, can help lighten the path ahead.

Things to consider:

Evaluate if your stress and workload are being projected on to your employees as you may be inadvertently making it hard for employees to maintain work/home hours and boundaries. Leaders should assign, coordinate, and manage the pace of work to state new goals and expectations that offer flexibility to employee’s individual circumstances during these unprecedented times.

Revise the processes and procedures to fit the new normal and communicate them. If you are not sitting in the next cubicle and are not in touch daily there may be redundant work being done if everyone is trying to solve the same problem in different ways. Set up portals of communication to avoid confusion, frustration and wasted time and energy to ensure efficiency – and make sure to touch base regularly.

Set work hours as much as possible so employees don’t feel like they need to prioritize work 24/7. Research shows that those who are working from home are working much longer hours. A 9 to 5 may not work for many, so discuss varying work schedules that best fits them and share with teams so everyone knows when each other is working, and when response time will be slower.

Prioritize the work of importance over immediate. We are all in a reactionary state, and often tasks not clearly thought out turn in to immediate priorities. A Harvard Business School study states that selecting easy (immediate) tasks over hard (longer-term) tasks results in significant declines in productivity. Employees, particularly those facing increased workloads as they juggle family and work tasks, should be given priority tasks of importance.

Encourage water-cooler check-in’s. Meaning not all virtual meetings are all about work. You should have a sense of what your team members are dealing with as a new normal at home and work. This is a time to connect and identify if they are on the path to burnout and offer support.

This time of COVID-19 has given us an opportunity to re-evaluate priorities and abandon a culture of unrealistic and perhaps inefficient work and home demands. When we intentionally set boundaries and priorities that include the importance of self-care to avoid a full-blown burnout, productivity will follow.

~Cherene Kambeitz- Marketing & Communications Director, Levvel Inc.

Reach out to Connect@levvel.ca