How to avoid becoming burnt out at work

How to avoid becoming burnt out at work

I love what I do. Every day, I get to work with amazing clients, companies and people that I enjoy working with. I get to tell the most amazing stories, help to build brands, raise profiles and go above and beyond for the clients I work with.

However, I also have a family, friends and believe it or not, a life outside of work and I’m sure the same goes for many of you.

Occasionally, I’ll admit, getting the work life balance right can be tough, and there have been times when I know (particularly earlier in my career) where I took on too much work, pushed myself harder than I needed to and generally let myself reach a point of burnout.

Today, I’m really fortunate in that I’m surrounded by an amazing team at Elevate who have my back and won’t let me reach my burnout point, and I’ll do what I can to make sure they don’t burnout.

However, this isn’t the case for everyone, and for many of you, sometimes work related stress, excessive workload or a lack of understanding around all you are doing can result in burnout.

In May this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) added burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” to the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases.

It is defined by the WHO as a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions: 

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job;
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

According to the WHO: “Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

On August 20, a US research study released by Accountemps, a subsidiary of global specialist recruitment and job agency, Robert Half found that nearly all senior managers (96%) in the US believe their team members are experiencing some degree of burnout. In a separate survey conducted with workers, 91% of people said they are at least somewhat burned out.

In summary, burnout is a legitimate condition, and one that affects a whole lot of people.

Now, while I write this blog with an air of expertise, I’m not a leading expert in this space – I have some experience working in the world of mental health and am really interested in the space and understanding it better, so I often turn to research, listen to and engage with experts.

To define how you might know if you are burnt out, I’m going to utilise some readings I’ve done and reference people who are in fact experts in this space.

Writing for The Conversation in June this year, University of Adelaide, Research Fellow Mind & Brain / PhD Student - Clinical Lecturer, Dr Michael Musker wrote that it's normal to feel stressed at work from time to time. But for some people, the stress becomes all-consuming, leading to exhaustion, cynicism and hatred towards your job. This is known as burnout.

To answer the question, how do you know if you are burnt out, Dr Musker referenced a list of questions developed for the United Kingdom Practitioner Health Programme.

He said: “If you think you might be suffering burnout, ask yourself the following questions”: 

  1. Has anyone close to you asked you to cut down on your work?
  2. In recent months have you become angry or resentful about your work or about colleagues, clients or patients?
  3. Do you feel guilty that you are not spending enough time with your friends, family or even yourself?
  4. Do you find yourself becoming increasingly emotional, for example crying, getting angry, shouting, or feeling tense for no obvious reason?

When was the last time you asked yourself any of these questions?

Have you ever asked any of these questions?

If you haven’t, it might be worth you asking them of yourself.

So, what can you do to avoid becoming burnt out?

Some tips to avoiding / recovering from burn out:

Like in the previous section, I’m definitely going to reference some experts in this section as well, and I’ve selected a number of tips that I think are great to help with avoiding burnout.

1.    Make sure you have some real human connections in the workplace:

Speaking to the ABC in January 2019, Professor of Industrial and Organisational Psychology at Deakin University, Prof Michael Leiter defined human connections in the workplace as the most powerful resource in avoiding burnout.

He said: “One of the big factors of measuring whether people are burnt out or engaged in what they're doing is the quality of relationships of people at work; the people you work with. 

"The most powerful resource that you have at work is generally other people — other people are the source of knowledge, wisdom and all sorts of emotional support.”

2.    For the high performers among you, try not to compensate for others:

Okay, so this one is a little bit controversial. However, in an address to employers, the Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace (CMHW) recognised that there are high achievers at work, and occasionally it’s easy to put the top achievers in teams with people who aren’t as highly skilled or capable. 

Their recommendation is to give your top performers the opportunity to work with colleagues that are at or near their level of competence.

“This allows more balanced sharing of a project’s workload and pressures as well as the opportunity to learn and grow together. Having to consistently pick up the slack and / or coach lesser performers can drain a high performer’s energy and morale.”

On the flip-side, as a worker who liked to perform well, there is a time to call this out. In the same article, the CMHW encourages employees who are experiencing burnout to “set boundaries for yourself in terms of what you will and will not do – be okay with saying no.” 

So, if you want to be a real high performer, keep kicking those goals and delivering the absolute best results you can for your clients or customers, but know that there are times when it’s okay to say no. 

3.    Take care of yourself:

So, my third and final tip might sound fairly simple, but taking care of ourselves isn’t always as easy as we might think.

Writing for Psychology Today, stress and resilience expert, Paula Davis-Laack outlined some of her own story.

She wrote: “When I was a lawyer, lunch often involved wolfing down some food-like substance at my desk while I continued to read contracts and catch up on emails. While my work ethic was outwardly admired, I was not working at a sustainable pace. 

“It’s seductive to think we must always be present, sitting at our desks, in order for our worlds to run right, but our bodies aren’t machines (no matter how much caffeine and sugar you pump in). And really, whatever “it” is (work, chores, homework) will still be there after you take a much-needed break.”

There are so many tips, tricks, life hacks, and other tools that tell you how to take care of yourself, and there is value in many of the different tools and ideas out there. My tip for you here is to work out what works for you. Look after yourself. If this is through exercise, diet, mental awareness exercises, meeting up with friends, cooking, cleaning, or whatever else works for you, make sure you do what you need to do to take care of yourself.

At Elevate Communication, staff culture and growth is key. To succeed in achieving the best results for our clients, we believe you need a strong, supportive team.

If you enjoyed reading this blog, why not check out this blog from Elevate’s Managing Director, Mel Deacon on the importance of strong team culture when running an agency.

If you want to get on the front foot with your business success stories, milestones, staff profiles and information about your brand? Contact Elevate today as we see stories EVERYWHERE!


About the Author - Mark Henderson

Mark is a passionate storyteller and professional communicator. As a PR practitioner and media expert, Mark is driven by a desire to tell real stories and to deliver top quality, first-in-class, creative and effective public relations c...

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