Joanne Cook life coach showing a lady burned out stressed at work

How to prevent burnout in the workplace

by | Oct 25, 2022 | Free resources

There is a considerable discussion around ‘quiet quitting’ in the media, and what business leaders need to look out for in their employees who are believed to have checked out, such as absenteeism, perceived tardiness, or inflexibility. But what if this sense of ‘checking out’ is a symptom of burnout and people are simply ‘checking in’ with themselves? Could this be a case of guarding against burnout, or setting better boundaries and mitigating exhaustion after the challenges of the last few years? Read on to learn how to prevent burnout in the workplace.

As we continue to grapple with the biggest leadership challenges of 2022 including the:

  • Complexities of hybrid working
  • Accelerated digital transformation
  • The continuing ripple effects on our mental health from the global pandemic

It’s no wonder that reports of UK employee burnout have rocketed.

Reports show an increase of 48% from 2021 to 2022 – according to research conducted by Glassdoor.

In addition, burnout hits record level as workers can’t switch off. Google Trends show that in the UK we can see the following increases in search terms:

  • Searches for ‘Sick leave’ have increased by 400%
  • Symptoms of burnout’ searches have increased by 200%
  • And ‘How to recover from burnout’ have increased by 140%

So, what is burnout?

“A state of physical and emotional exhaustion. It can occur when you experience long-term stress in your job, or when you have worked in a physically or emotionally draining role for a long time.” According to Mental Health UK.

For many workers, psychological health is now as important as their physical well-being.

Depression, anxiety, stress, loneliness, and insomnia were all features of the pandemic and now we’re returning to ‘normal’ levels of output and practices, leaders need to take special care to look out for burnout symptoms amongst their workforces.

Typical signs of burnout:

  • 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
  • Self-doubt
  • Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Why is burnout on the increase?

Burnout is complex, and it doesn’t happen overnight.

It is a steady incremental creep of many factors.
We all have stories we tell ourselves about what we “need to, “have to” or ‘should do’.

In turn, adding to our workload so that what was once already a stretch becomes expected.

Discretionary effort over and above can become the norm in the work context especially in times of uncertainty and an unstable economy so many people keep their heads down and keep on adding more to ward off the fear of unemployment.

It may help to visualise burnout as an active sliding scale that tips gradually the more we continue to neglect ourselves and our feelings.

A small energy deficit here or there is ok with if continued can eventually snowball into a crisis unless we recognise and deal with it before it gets to that critical point.

How can we as individuals and as leaders prevent burnout in the workplace?

Simply knowing the signs above can be helpful.
When we deepen our understanding of burnout, we guard against it by empowering ourselves to act and behave differently.

Wellness programmes for employees are the type of intervention employers should certainly be considering right now even in the face of economic pressure. Explore more about how organisations can need address burnout with my corporate coaching services.

I know from my own experience over many years that taking on extra work was always seen favourably particularly when aspiring to progress one’s career. This can become a real trap.

"Creating a culture of burnout is the opposite to creating a culture of sustainable creativity. This mentality needs to be introduced as a leadership and performance-enhancing tool."

– Arianna Huffington

Ways to prevent burnout in the workplace

Here are some thoughts that can help individuals and leaders consider to prevent burnout in the workplace.

Including reducing the potential for burnout in themselves and their teams:

  • Take a pause moment or even a vacation.
  • Stop for a moment, step back, notice your thoughts and put a name to your feelings.
  • A therapeutic technique I have used with clients is to ask themselves in the third person ‘what it is they (insert name) needs right now? Said with the same compassion as if talking to a dear friend.

This often unearths what is truly needed in this moment. It allows us to acknowledge our own needs which we can often overlook.

  • How often do you take annual leave?

That vital time that good employers pay for so you can take time to refresh away from the office. I have always been surprised at the amount of underutilised annual leave in business.

  • Leaders might want to check in and see who has or hasn’t taken leave and check in with those in their team who have underutilised leave.

This can apply to caregiving duties for even a few days can give that vital space and perspective there are services that can support with respite.

Reframe for yourself or with your team

  • Consider your roles, responsibilities, and purpose – remind yourself why you started?
  • What you like, love and enjoy about your life and reflect on the long-term view and how far you’ve come.

It could help shift your perception into a more helpful light and encourage you to take necessary steps to put things back into balance.

It can be helpful for teams to consider these questions and enable support for each other.

If you are saying ‘Yes’ to something new, what will you be saying ‘No’ or ‘Pause on’ that allows for the energy, focus and effort fort the ‘Yes’ to happen.

Self-care check in with yourself and your team

My advice is to start small.

  • Self-care looks different according to your needs on the day.
  • Self-care needs are unique to you even if they are like someone else’s.
  • It could be prioritising adequate amounts of sleep or focussing on fuelling mind and body with a healthy meal, comforting warm drink or simply making time to a little dance to your favourite song whilst the kettle boils.
  • Do you know what your team’s self-care practices are?

Ask for help and be open to receiving it. Leaders especially

Don’t be afraid to ask people for help – after all, no one can support you to navigate a problem they don’t know about.

  • Be specific about what it is you need, for example help with picking the children up from school, household chores, or with distinct tasks in work.
  • Opening to receiving help can create new connections and possibilities beyond your own imagining.

Sometimes we falsely believe we need to take everything on, shouldering it all especially leaders who feel that cannot show vulnerability but, we are all in this together we are all human and equal.

What support are you willing to accept?

Broaden your personal and professional network and connections

Sometimes it helps to talk about what you’re going through with peers, family, and friends, stepping away from immediate stressors and enjoying another person’s company, someone who isn’t entangled in anything you are trying to work through.

Either way, social contact can be an excellent way to de-stress and find new or different perspectives.

It might help to broaden and build a network of people who are different to you, building mutual trust who will give you alternative or diverse perspectives.

Set boundaries for yourself as the leader and with your team

Remember the saying “You can’t pour from an empty cup.”

When you’re not working, leave your work behind.

Easier said than done right?

It is worth noting that no job was ever designed for you to work 24/7/365 and if it was your pay would reflect that level of commitment.

  • Does your pay reflect the amount of commitment?

I talk more about setting boundaries in a previous blog, ‘How to care Less and set healthy boundaries‘.

Allow yourself as the leader to role model stepping back, take time to be more ‘on’ the business not just wading ‘in’ it.

It’s also worth remembering...

That the symptoms or feelings of burnout may also herald the beginning of a life transition for some people, where our mind or body is telling us that it is time to move on and expand into new horizons. I provide coaching and therapy solutions for individuals, teams and corporate services for organisations.

If you’d like to spend some time exploring how you can address burnout in the workplace, book a free strategy call with me.