Managing work-related stress is becoming increasingly challenging. When you work as an executive or career coach, statements like “I think I’m going through a burnout” become commonplace.
Stress in the workplace is not unusual for working professionals, but it becomes a much bigger problem when it starts affecting your professional performance.
Deloitte found that 84% of millennials, compared to 77% of all respondents, have experienced burnout at their current job in one of their external marketplace surveys. And nearly half have left a job because of burnout, compared to 42% of all respondents.
Over the course of my 30 years in the workforce and beyond, I have dedicated considerable time and energy to mastering the art of overcoming occupational stress and avoiding burnout in order to perform at my very best. It’s true that “every role is a managerial role,” and eventually you’ll have to switch back and forth between being an expert in your field and a generalist in your company’s operations.
Is there a foolproof method for dealing with work-related stress that guarantees optimal performance and output?
Initially, it is important to trace the origins of the burnout:
Journey to the Burnout
Envision yourself drifting aimlessly in a state of complete boredom. Imagine just drifting aimlessly, completely bored. It can be fun to do nothing for a while. But sitting around watching TV in your pyjamas all day every day is not good for your performance or for your health.
But if the pressure is exceptionally high and prolonged, we risk entering the perilous burnout zone. Exhaustion from prolonged stress is a common side effect of being put under extreme pressure, such as during a crisis. While short-term stress may not have any negative effects on your health, chronic stress can have serious consequences for your body and mind over time.
It’s easy to lose sight of who you are and how your team works when you’re focused on the task at hand. The goal is to get things done, but we can’t seem to notice that our anxiety is preventing us from doing so. If you recall the pressure performance curve from up top, you’ll recognize the Zone of Delusion as the region just above the strain zone.
Am I really going through Burnout?
Since “Burnout” is not recognized as a medical condition, it is understandable that people often mistake it for short-term anxiety or stress. See if this checklist can help. If you answer “yes” to the majority of these questions, you may be suffering from severe job burnout:
- Have you developed a cynical or critical attitude at work?
- Do you dread going to work each day and have a hard time getting started?
- Have you noticed an increase in your irritability and impatience toward clients, customers, and colleagues?
- Do you find that you simply cannot maintain sufficient energy levels to get anything done?
- Do you have trouble focusing your attention?
- Is it hard for you to take pride in your accomplishments?
- Has your job begun to disillusion you?
- How often do you use food, drugs, or alcohol to either feel better or to avoid feeling?
- Have your sleep habits changed?
- Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?
How does it result in Burnout?
Workplace exhaustion can be caused by a number of different things. Here are the most common ones:
- Lack of control. If you feel like you have no say in matters related to your job, like your schedule, assignments, or workload, you may experience burnout. So could a lack of the resources you need to do your work.
- Unclear job expectations. If you’re unclear about the degree of authority you have or what your supervisor or others expect from you, you’re not likely to feel comfortable at work.
- Interpersonal conflicts that are hindering productivity. Maybe you have to deal with a bully at work, or perhaps your superior officer is constantly micromanaging your efforts. This can contribute to job stress.
- Extremes of activity. When a job is monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused — which can lead to fatigue and job burnout.
- Lack of social support. If you feel isolated at work and in your personal life, you might feel more stressed.
- An incongruity between one’s professional and personal life. You’re more likely to experience rapid burnout if you devote too much time and energy to your work and end up with little left over to enjoy time with those closest to you.
How to Manage Burnout for Peak Performance
Four Dimensions of Energy
Think about the actions of people who make a living as professional athletes. The ability to control one’s energy levels and conserve for peak performance is often the deciding factor between success and failure. Although it may seem silly at first glance, top athletes often rely on rituals to help them maintain focus and control their emotions.
They understand this vital energy management component and requirement for peak performance.
Our energy has four dimensions: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual (or ritual). From all of them, we draw energy that must be replenished. To manage our burnout for peak performance, we need to build our strength and expand our energy capacity (stamina/resilience). Stretch yourselves beyond your usual limits and allow for rest. This cycle is referred to as stress and recovery.
Reduce exposure to job stressors
How many times have you agreed to take on an additional workload because you didn’t want to sound rude?
I’ve been there several times.
Eventually, though, you must take charge of your own life. Be upfront. Do not volunteer for tasks that are outside of your purview. Burnout is a risk that increases in proportion to how much suffering you accept.
But even if we begin to implement these thought processes into our mindsets, we will still find ourselves in numerous situations where saying “yes” is the better decision. So how do we know exactly when to say “No”? How do we know if it feels right or wrong?
We need to evaluate the situation and ask ourselves questions like, “Will saying yes take my attention away from something more important?” Will saying yes make me even more tired or burnt out? These questions give us the framework for when it’s finally time to say “No”.
Networking always helps!
What happens after someone experiences burnout?
Your day feels mechanical, and your problem-solving skills seem not to work anymore.
The best antidote to burnout, particularly when it’s driven by cynicism and inefficacy, is seeking out rich interpersonal interactions and continual personal and professional development. The best way to find useful connections and educational opportunities are to find a coach who can assist you in doing just that. Volunteering to advise others is another particularly effective way of breaking out of a negative cycle.
Practice State flows
How can you prevent burnout and even recover from it? Achieving state flows.
One of our main limitations these days is, of course: interruptions. With constant interruptions from kids, roommates, and colleagues sending Slack messages to ask if you read their emails, there is little opportunity to be fully absorbed in anything.
And when work starts to feel like labor, burnout becomes obvious.
To be in the flow is to enter a zone of heightened focus. As with many forms of meditation, it causes the ego to fall away. In psychological terms, this is an “optimal experience,” and it has been linked to a wide range of positive outcomes.
However, “little” is not the same as “none.” Achieving the bliss of flow is possible — even now — with a few smart strategies.
The first step in effectively managing your time is identifying the times of day when you are least likely to be interrupted, and then using that information to schedule specific times for completing specific tasks. This way, you can manage burnout for peak performance way better.
In the end, it’s all about getting your work done.