As per the WHO guidelines, burn-out has been defined as an occupational phenomenon i.e., “A syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
It is not a medical condition, but a state of fatigue or exhaustion caused by immense work pressure that results in the manifestation of symptoms at the physical, mental, or emotional level. Any person can experience burnout and there is no ground rule on who is more susceptible to experiencing it.
- You could be an enthusiastic beginner in a new role – you may experience burnout as you would be putting in immense effort to make a mark in the first 90 days of your new role.
- You could be a capable doer who is receiving a lot of support and encouragement from the people around you – you might be experiencing a burnout.
- You could be an excellent performer where people are looking at your work and being very appreciative. You might be putting your best efforts to ensure that you are not going against their expectations – you could be experiencing burnout.
- You could be an independent achiever and getting a lot of stretch engagements and you might be feeling good – but you could be experiencing burnout.
- You could be a leader working to take your team and organization to the next level of growth – and you could be experiencing a burnout from all the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion due to all your efforts.
You could be very passionate about your work, putting all your energy into what you love and still experience burnout.
One of our Executive Coaches, Sripriyaa Venkataraman (Priya) shared her experience from one of her coaching sessions with a senior leader (SL). This leader always exuded energy and enthusiasm. After a 3-minute visualization exercise and a minute of silence, the leader talked about watching a video of himself that he had posted on social media. He stated that he did not seem to resonate with the person in front of him. He felt he looked much older and more artificial on screen. The joy and enthusiasm that he typically had seemed to be missing.
So, Priya was curious and on dwelling deeper, she gathered that the SL was going through professional burn-out.
SIGNS & SYMPTOMS
Burn-out doesn’t happen overnight. It gets accumulated over years of neglect.
“If you listen to your body when it whispers, you won’t have to hear it scream.”
While Priya was working with the leader, she recognized that for a long period of time, he had been going through fatigue and exhaustion. He came home tired and went to bed without actually retiring from his work mode. When he started his day, he did not have the same amount of interest and motivation he used to exhibit a year or two ago.
He was always overwhelmed with whatever was on his mind which often led to unexplained headaches in the middle of the day. Even a power nap or optimum sleep didn’t help as he woke up with pains or spasms in certain parts of his body. He could now understand the root cause behind them.
This leader who used to be a power capsule was clouded with self-doubts and dissatisfaction with what he was doing. His daily activities did not sum up to the larger purpose of his life. This drove him crazy. He was unable to share this with any of his co-workers or family. He reacted to whatever anyone said in an irritable and impulsive way.
He neither felt like eating nor going out. He would suddenly wake up at nights and ponder on what was going on. He was low on stamina and did not feel the same passion with which he had started his role and made a career for himself.
After listening to all this, Priya explained the concept of professional burnout to the leader. She also helped him identify 5 effective strategies to combat burnout for himself as well as for his team members.
THE 5 STRATEGIES TO COMBAT BURNOUT
- Build a culture of kindness, compassion, and empathy
Establish a team or organizational culture to encourage and enable members to have open and non-threatening conversations around “How they feel”. When people feel safe and secure, they deliver their best results. Given the lessons learnt from Covid-19 transformation, most teams have built some level of empathy embedded interactions, but not necessarily the deeper levels of compassion.
“Stop being critically judgmental and start being compassionately curious”
- Address change using milestones
Growth is inevitable and should occur as a natural progression, it should not be fostered by a threatening environment. So, be careful and be more compassionate in the way you set your milestones. Ensure that there is clarity and a sense of connection to the work people are doing, rather than feeling overwhelmed by the milestones and the targets they have to achieve.
- Encourage diversity in employee life roles
This is where organizations need to step up. While we all have certain descriptions attached to our job profiles, it does not mean that everything has to be the way it has been carved on the stone. Without creativity, one can hardly be productive and in order to be productive, one’s imaginations, potential and capabilities need to be set free. No longer can you hire people or have development plans that do not look at diversity in a role and diversity in employee life roles.
Look at yourself as a student. When you were young and surrounded by a lot of extracurricular activities, it made you a better student and a better all-rounder. Encourage people to have more diversity in things other than work. So, learning is important, and it need not always be around work. It could be completely different. Organizations should start encouraging diversity in life roles when you hire or develop your people. You could have inner designations apart from the external designations that you typically have within the organization.
- Practice more centered leadership
It is all about giving opportunities to connect with yourself in a more holistic manner. This could be through spirituality. Connecting with the larger universe in a systematic manner can help you address and cope with burnout.
- Create inspiring role models
It is important to have inspiring role models who could be motivating, coaching, mentoring, and influencing your people so that they can learn to have more value in the organization rather than looking at the work as a chore or having a sense of overwhelm.
So, burnout is a state of mind from which we need to liberate ourselves, and it could occur at any point in our career. Remember, “almost everything will work again if you unplug it for a few minutes, including you.”