You’ve probably heard a lot of talk about burnout over the past couple of years.
When the boundaries between work and home life have become so blurred, how could you not - right?
But burnout isn’t actually anything new.
In fact, the condition was officially recognised as an occupational phenomenon worldwide in 2019 - before the pandemic fully took hold.
And it’s not fussy about who it targets, either.
Recent research suggests that burnout was reported in 67% of women and 59% of men (63% of employees overall) But perhaps even more worrying was the fact that 40% of workers believe burnout is an inevitable part of success.
Well, we’re here to set the record straight: it shouldn't be.
First things first, though…
What Is Burnout, Exactly?
Essentially, burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It commonly occurs when you experience long-term stress in your job or, alternatively, when you’ve worked in a physically or emotionally draining role for a long time.
The problem is: these aren't the only causes.
What Are The Causes And Symptoms Of Burnout?
Burnout is much more than feeling tired from working long hours; in fact, it can be caused by a number of factors:
Lack of social support - research suggests that a solid support network, whether that's friends, family or coworkers can dramatically reduce the likelihood of burnout.
Poor self-care - we’ve talked before about the importance of self-care and research shows that those who take a bit of extra time to look after themselves are 2.2x more likely to feel balance in their lives.
Feeling out of control - various workplace research studies have shown that a perceived lack of control can be a key driver of burnout. But this isn’t just about those neverending to-dos and tasks; instead, it can come from financial instability, a lack of time or even the perception that you’re not trusted to make decisions.
Having too much on your plate - almost half (46%) of the workers surveyed by Westfield Health were close to burnout in 2022. In fact, people who’d been WFH for the last 18 months were even more likely to feel at risk of burnout (50%) than those who’d been going to the workplace (41%). This indicates that, for some, burnout is less to do with the role itself and more about juggling too many aspects of home and work life at once.
To make things even more complicated, there’s also the effect of hidden work to consider. As many as 90% of people aged 25-34 are now using smartphones as their main device for checking emails. Add to that the many workplace apps that make it effortless to log in from anywhere and it can feel like there’s no escape from the daily grind.
The thing is, though, “being on” all the time isn’t natural. And for many, it's just too much.
But when we all have different limits to how much we can take, what does too much actually look like?
Well, whatever your max capacity is, the common signs of burnout look pretty similar to everyone. These include:
Feeling tired or drained most of the time
Feeling helpless, trapped and/or defeated
Feeling detached/alone in the world
Having a cynical/negative outlook
Having feelings of self-doubt or imposter syndrome
Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done
Feeling overwhelmed in your day-to-day
So, what’s the common thread that ties all these issues together?
Balance. If we don’t find the right blend of activities - be that social, physical, spiritual, etc. - things can quickly feel in disarray, For example, keeping working at the weekends at the expense of time with the family or your own hobbies and life can start to feel pretty exhausting and unfulfilling.
But work-life balance isn’t a myth. In fact, there are some simple steps you can start taking today to restore your equilibrium.
How To Avoid Burnout And The Benefits Of Balance
There’s no one way to get that sense of balance spot on. However, there are some hard and fast rules that will work for anyone - whoever you are, whatever your day job.
1. Stay Mindful
Mindfulness allows us to quickly become aware of subtle changes in our mood and then act on them accordingly. Even five minutes in the morning before work is a great way to put you back in the driving seat before the day gets going.
Not sure where to start? Don't worry, we've written a no-BS guide to meditation that’s perfect for getting started here.
But mindfulness doesn't have to mean meditation. You could try something like mindful running if exercise is more your bag. The important thing is you’re taking a moment to focus on the present - not your looming deadlines or lifetime goals.
2. Set Realistic Goals
From mapping out a path forward to increasing motivation and productivity, goal setting has innumerable benefits.
But did you know it can help with alleviating the effects of burnout too?
It can. Just follow the SMARTER framework when setting your goals and you won’t go far wrong. The A is for achievable, encouraging you to set a goal that’s challenging but won’t take a toll on you emotionally and physically. We’ve gone into more detail about setting and achieving goals here.
3. Take Breaks
It might feel like you can get way more done by working through your breaks but research tells a different story. In fact, studies have suggested that prolonged attention to a single task can actually hinder performance. So, even if it’s just a short 10-minute walk around the block, try and factor in some breaks. It’ll make all the difference, promise. This leads us to our next point…
4. Set Boundaries
Just. Say. No.
OK, we know it’s easier said than done when everybody seems to set the unhelpful deadline of “ASAP ideally.” But we can still set boundaries by changing our status on Slack or flipping our phone onto Airplane mode when we pop out for some fresh air. So be strong, say no and start setting a few boundaries - the world can wait a while.
5. Switch Off
Sure, the last few years might have created more than a few bad working habits; whether that’s chipping away at your laptop on the bed with no back support or letting the day slip away without stepping outside. The thing is, you have to shut down at some time or your mind and body will make the choice for you. So switch off at five, turn off those notifications and spend the evenings and weekends doing stuff that makes you feel whole.
Easier said than done though, right?
6. Get Into A Routine
Whether that’s working from home in the morning before spending the afternoon in a cafe or making it a rule to go for a run at lunchtime, there’s comfort in routine. It can quiet those chaotic feelings of being out of control and help you stay calm.
But you know what? It’s easier to do if you’ve got a solid plan in place to keep you on track.
7. Plan Your Time
We all flit from one task to another from time to time - sometimes, it’s just unavoidable. However, research shows that multitasking isn’t just ineffective; it actually does us more harm than good. With that in mind, try using a planner to keep you in control of your time and on track with your tasks. You can efficiently get into ‘deep work’ by blocking out time for specific activities, giving each task your undivided attention and shutting out distractions in the process.
But planning doesn't just make you more productive, it can boost your confidence and cognitive functions too. And that's a great way to keep burnout at bay.
However, that’s just the start of what it can do…
8. Prioritise Self-Care
It’s not just healthier working habits that planning can keep you feeling tip-top. Nutrition, exercise and rest help your body to heal and reduce the likelihood of burnout too. So use a planner to turn your routine into a run that deserves rewarding. Then get a snapshot of all of the six categories of self-care in your life (physical, emotional, spiritual, relational, professional and psychological) and plot out some time to restore the balance in any areas that feel lacking.
9. Invest In Relationships
Ploughing extra hours into the day job will always come at the expense of something else - often our relationships. But a lack of strong relationships actually increases the risk of premature death from all causes by 50%. So try and make sure you spend some time on the relationships that matter to you, whether that’s your partner, best mate or even the dog. Just remember, it's not quality time if you're still plugged in.
The thing is, it's not just the fact that spending time with people you care about means you’re not working; those minutes or hours can help reduce the effects of burnout in other ways too.
10. Open Up
Sure, this can be tough to do - we get it. But you don’t have to talk to someone else if that doesn’t come easy to you. Countless studies revealed that people who get their thoughts and feelings onto paper were more able to handle emotional stress than those who didn't. So why not try keeping a journal instead? Check out some more of the benefits of journaling here.
At the end of the day, only you know your limits. But the effects of overwork don’t discriminate; they can affect everyone. So put balance at the top of your to-dos and nip burnout in the bud before it gets started.
Feeling out of sorts just isn't worth the overtime.