by Christy Frazier Shepard, managing partner, Planning Plus, LLC
According to a recent survey, burnout is on the rise globally, but particularly in the United States. The Future Forum Pulse survey revealed that burnout among the workforce rose by 8 percent globally and by 16 percent in the United States between May 2022 and August 2022. The rates were higher among middle managers.
With rising rates of employees reporting symptoms of burnout, organization leaders have been grappling with how to address the syndrome in the workplace. One good place to start is by gaining a deeper understanding of burnout.
What is burnout?
Burnout can be difficult to describe. However, it’s not a medical condition. According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, burnout is defined as “physical, emotional or mental exhaustion, accompanied by decreased motivation, lowered performance and negative attitudes towards oneself and others.”
Often, people do not know they’ve reached burnout until they cross the line between “really tired” and “too exhausted to function.” Other people might be the type of personality who likes to stay busy and might not recognize when they are doing too much. Burnout also happens when work-life balance gets too far out of sync. With the rise in remote work and technology in most aspects of our daily lives, this out-of-sync balance has been a common occurrence in the last few years.
The difference between burnout and stress?
While often used interchangeably, burnout and stress are not the same thing. Depending on your personality and DISC behavior type, you may react positively to stress. Some team members find that small amounts of stress help them feel more productive and motivated.
According to the APA Dictionary of Psychology, stress is defined as “a normal reaction to everyday pressures but can become unhealthy when it upsets your day-to-day functioning. Stress involves changes affecting nearly every system of the body, influencing how people feel and behave.”
While the benefits or detriments of slight stress vary from person to person, burnout is exclusively detrimental. Too much pressure and chronic stress can lead to burnout. These cases occur when someone has been so worn down by stress that you feel — as the name suggests — burned out.
Like stress, burnout manifests differently, depending on the person. Even though we commonly associate burnout with emotional exhaustion, it can impact all areas of your life — including your physical health.
Signs of burnout
Common causes of burnout?
Like the various signs of burnout, there are a variety of burnout causes. In general, each cause leads to a central tipping point: When work-related stress or pressure becomes too much or goes on for too long, it can lead to burnout.
You may be at risk of burnout if there is:
- Little to no control over your workload.
- Little to no recognition of a job well done.
- Unclear job expectations.
- Unreasonable or overly demanding job expectations.
- High-pressure work environments.
- Too much work — specifically when it leads to less time to do the things you enjoy outside of work.
How to prevent burnout on your team
One of the most impactful things you can do as a manager is support your team and recognize burnout before it happens. It’s much easier to prevent burnout than to fix it once it’s already happening — by the time you notice burnout, it’s hard to reverse. Instead, be proactive about your team’s workload.
- Frequently checking in on their capacity and resource management to get ahead of burnout and ensure team members aren’t overwhelmed.
- Workload management tools give you a bird’s-eye view of everyone’s tasks in one place. That way, you can get a sense of if anyone is overloaded and redistribute that work if necessary.
- Create realistic and attainable goals. Figuring out how a task contributes to a bigger initiative can take mental energy.
- Mapping out a clear set of goals for your team to work towards can reduce confusion or overwork.
- Schedule weekly or biweekly 1:1 meeting with team members to check in on priorities, capacity, and other questions they might have.
There are several strategies you can use to reverse burnout. The one that works best for you depends on your situation and personality. Try implementing these strategies in combination with one another for the best results.
- Scheduling breaks. Burnout happens because you’ve been too stressed for too long. You likely have a lot of work to get done and may be feeling a lot of pressure to do it. To start pushing back against burnout, schedule breaks throughout the day.
- Setting boundaries. All the causes of burnout have one thing in common: external pressure. One of the best ways to reverse burnout is to set boundaries for yourself. Choose a time to log off from work every evening.
- Taking time off (if you can). This might not be an option for you straightaway but taking time off is a great way to relax and recharge. Even if you only take a day or half day away from work, this is a chance to seek work-life balance. When you do take time off, make sure to confirm with your supervisor that you’ll be offline and unavailable.
- Take care of yourself. Often, burnout happens because we are dedicating too much of ourselves to our work. Take time for self-care. Make sure you are getting enough sleep and spending time with friends or family. Try introducing mindfulness into your day through things like yoga or meditation. This can help you combat stressors and increase wellness.
Burnout can happen to anyone, and just because you beat burnout once doesn’t mean it can’t creep up on you again. Here are some steps to developing resilience.
- Build your work relationships. Many times, burnout can happen when you are isolated at work while simultaneously being under a lot of pressure. One way to build resilience against future burnout is to build and foster your work relationships. When pressure starts to mount, you have colleagues that can provide support and assistance to address the stress before it becomes burnout. You are not in this alone.
- Align work with performance goals. Aligning work with goals means you’ll have a clear sense of why your work matters. When you understand how the work you are engaged in is contributing to the bigger picture and strategic plan, it is easier to understand and prioritize projects and tasks, even when the pressure starts to build. If you must change direction or reprioritize, you can effectively prioritize your most important tasks without worrying you won’t hit your goals.
- Balance your work life with your personal life. In addition to getting enough sleep and connecting with loved ones, make sure you’re dedicating time to your interests outside of work. Do things you enjoy, whether that’s reading a book, seeing friends, being creative, doing a sport, or something else. Think of it like diversifying your investments—but in this case, you’re investing in your interests.
From burnout to balance
Burnout can fly under the radar. Given enough time, these symptoms can build up and impact the well-being of your team members. The best way to ensure your co-workers aren’t burning out is to spot it before it happens. That’s where workload management comes in.