Burnout is something we’re all talking about more openly — whether it’s about WFH burnout or the fact that soon enough, our sweat could detect burnout. In fact, even prior to COVID, it was recognised as a pretty pressing issue. The World Health Organisation, in 2019, included it in the International Classification of Diseases as an “occupational phenomenon”.
Buzzfeed coined Millennials the “burnout generation“; according to the Financial Review, 5-7% of the Australian workforce suffers from burnout — this was in 2019. In the time of coronavirus? A survey of over 10,000 Australian healthcare workers found that 58% reported being burnt out — some are so fed up, they’re planning to quit. As for those of us not in healthcare? 77% of workers in Australia and New Zealand experienced burnout last year.
If you’re burnt out, these statistics may not help — or maybe, they’ll make you feel less alone. If you’re not sure you’re suffering from burnout, here’s how WHO classifies it. It’s characterised by three dimensions: Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job (negative feelings or cynicism towards it); and reduced professional efficacy. Oh, and their definition refers only to “chronic workplace stress”.
But now, here’s the good news — it is possible to reverse the suffering of burnout. That’s why we’ve put together the following handy guide on recovering from burnout. Before getting into that though, we recommend you read our article on how to cope with workplace stress, and on how to manage mental health at work (and knowing when enough is enough!).
Work Out Your Work Load
Yes, we’re starting in the workplace. This is where burnout stems from! According to the Harvard Business Review, your workload is an area that can lead to burnout.
So the first thing to do? Take a serious look at your workload: Planning it, prioritising and delegating tasks, saying no to additional tasks — and letting go of perfectionism. The latter is a sure-fire way to fast track burnout, according to Huffington Post.
So how do we reduce the stress surrounding it? Well, if your workload is unrealistically heavy, admit it. And if deadlines are also unrealistic, push back (politely, at first). Inform people of more realistic expectations — rather a job well done, then one rushed along with several others.
In addition to this, pick and prioritise tasks. CABA, a charity based in the UK, recommends the Franklin-Covey method of prioritising. This involves four rungs: A, urgent and important; B, important but not urgent; C, urgent but not important; D, neither urgent nor important. Start with As, then move onto Bs and Cs. Ds are ones that can fall to the wayside on busier days.
Practice Saying No
Practising saying no can also reduce feelings of burnout — and lessen an unrealistic workload. This is not to say you should say no to every extracurricular request that comes across your desk. Instead, evaluate your workload. If it is unfeasible, let them know and provide context of your workload. Harvard Business Review says it helps your counterpart grasp the “repercussions of what [they’re] asking”.
As for how to actually say no? You may want to practice actually saying the word — or hopefully, phrase — on trusted colleagues or family and friends. Make sure when it comes to the actual time, that you’re straightforward and clear about why not. Make sure you’re kind in delivery — be empathetic to the asker, but still stay firm.
This has been especially hard in the midst of a pandemic, where a lot of people did pivot to working from home and the lines blurred. Well, now it’s time to get out a big stick and draw a line in the sand. It’s boundary setting time.
The fact of the matter is that many people are checking work emails at any and every time of the day and are probably guilty of sending them too. Many feel like they need to be available 24/7. In 2018, the Australia Institute found that employers get six hours of free work a week from each employee — two months’ unpaid overtime a year.
So what can you do? Well first, leave your work computer at work. And delete any work apps off your personal phone and laptop — don’t cheat. If it’s that important (we’re talking emergency level here), people can contact you on your personal phone.
If it is necessary that work contacts you outside work, discuss them providing you with a specific work-related phone, or negotiate additional pay for the costs of your personal phone.
When at work, try to centralise communication. It may be tempting to chat across multiple applications (Slack, Skype, Teams), but it means your attention is even further divided. Talk to your team about focusing on just one. Make an agreement to not message or email outside of work hours (unless necessary) — if this isn’t possible, try to lead by example.
Once you’ve worked out those boundaries and are working on maintaining a good work-life balance — or honestly, before that — work on self-care. This can be anything from journaling to meditation to yoga. Schedule it into your day. As SmartCompany says, “[self-care] shouldn’t be seen as a treat or reward”.
Other good ways to prioritise self-care? Get enough restful sleep (try out a weighted blanket); make some time for exercise, even if it’s just an exercise snack; and eat some delicious, nutritious food…maybe some stress-relieving foods.
Keep Your Friends and Family Close
Don’t worry, we’re not going to mention anything about enemies here. At the end of the day, even though it seems easier to shoulder the burden alone, everybody needs support. Talk to those close to you; you don’t necessarily need advice, just someone to listen to you. They may also be able to offer possible solutions you hadn’t thought of.
It could be something as simple as spending time with a loved one — organising a dinner, a picnic in a park, or a walk in a park (a proven way to reduce stress!). Also, a hug never goes astray — according to SmartCompany, it lowers blood pressure, reduces stress, boosts self-esteem and increases serotonin levels.