Burnout – you’ve heard of it. Maybe you’ve experienced it. It’s more than that end-of-the- week “I’m so exhausted” feeling. That kind of tiredness might leave you unable to do more than fall asleep watching TV on a Friday night.
Pathetic maybe, but easily curable with a good night’s sleep and a well-spent weekend. In fact, getting some sleep and making time for fun are great ways to prevent the more serious version of burnout.
That kind of burnout happens as stress and pressure build up over time. You gradually get depleted by demands that exceed available resources. The passion that brought you to your work was once a brightly burning flame. Without a continuous source of fuel (resources, support, appreciation, time for self care) that flame can start flickering. Eventually it burns out. Job performance is affected and so are emotional and/or physical well-being. I’ve been there, and you may have too.
Anyone who experiences constant, ongoing demands on their energy, without the resources needed to meet those demands, anyone who feels chronically overworked and undervalued can eventually get burned out. Here’s an example of what burnout can look like in process and how it can be addressed.
A few days ago I facilitated a reflective team discussion with a group of mental health program supervisors. During that meeting Anna* described the stress of working to meet her unit’s required billable hours while being short-staffed. She was also putting time and energy into interviewing to fill vacant positions, and trying to support and take care of her staff. When I asked her what this is like for her, she fell silent, looking at me in surprise. Next I asked, “What do you do to take care of yourself in the midst of all this pressure?” Her eyes welled up. As her tears spilled, she said softly, “I don’t even let myself think about that.” We went on as a group to encourage her to identify some self care strategies she could find time to use. We acknowledged the organizational pressures contributing to the stress all the members of the group faced and also talked about ways they might address those issues as well. She was left knowing that tough as her situation was, she was not alone in facing it.
The good news is there are proactive, effective steps that you and your program can take to prevent burnout.
Here are some strategies this group brainstormed:
- Bring the place you go to in order to relax and unwind into your everyday life. For example, spend 5 minutes doing deep, relaxed breathing while visualizing being at the beach.
- Create boundaries between work and home so that you are able to stop thinking about work during time off.
- Identify key leaders with whom to open up dialogue about the impact of chronic high levels of workplace stress, in order to mobilize interest in addressing these issues.
- Reach out to trusted colleagues to check out your reactions to workplace stress. You will find you don’t have to handle these stresses alone. You also might discover that you’re holding yourself responsible for something that is a larger workplace or even societal issue.
- These colleagues may be able to help you find do-able solutions to dilemmas that you’ve been facing alone.
*Name changed to protect privacy.
These are some ideas to keep you burning bright. What strategies do you use to keep your commitment and passion for the work burning bright?
For more ideas on burnout prevention, join my webinar, Burning Bright or Burned Out? Well-Being for Helping Professionals at 12:30 – 1:30 pm Eastern time on May 23, 2014. Click here to register.
Read more about helping professionals and burnout in Parenting Services Burnout: How It Happens & How to Prevent It, my guest post on the Keys to Interactive Parenting Scale (KIPS) blog.
Best Start (2012). When compassion hurts: Burnout, vicarious trauma and secondary trauma in prenatal and early childhood service providers. Toronto, Ontario, Canada: author.
Korunka, C., Tement, S., Zdrehus, C. & Borza, A. (nd.) Burnout: Definition, recognition and prevention approaches. Available online at http://www.burnoutintervention.eu/fileadmin/user_upload/BOIT_theoretical_abstract_2705.pdf)
Maslach, C. (2003). Burnout, the cost of caring. Los Altos, CA: Institute for the Study of Human Knowledge.
Smith, M., Segal, J. & Segal, R. (2014). Preventing burnout: Signs, symptoms and coping strategies. Available online at http://www.helpguide.org/mental/burnout_signs_symptoms.htm.