I clearly remember when I began my dream career over twenty years ago, as a school counselor. I thought that I would save the world and retire doing this type of work. Around year nine, the burnout symptoms began. Constant exhaustion, negative energy, low motivation and watching the clock became my daily life. It took me two hard years to finally admit that I needed to leave this role and make a career change. As difficult as the experience was, it made me appreciate how important it is to prevent burnout before it gets the best of us. I did not have the resiliency strategies then that I do now.
What is burnout? The American Psychological Association’s David Ballard, PsyD describes job burnout as “an extended period of time where someone experiences exhaustion and a lack of interest in things, resulting in a decline in their job performance.” The symptoms are different for everyone but there are warning signs. A clear sign of burnout is when you feel exhausted most of the time. It can also include a lack of motivation, frustration, and it can even interfere with your ability to focus. Burnout is not only caused by stressful work or too many responsibilities. Other factors that can contribute to burnout include lifestyle and certain personality traits. The most common lifestyle example is the individual who takes on too many responsibilities, without enough help from others. Personality traits that can contribute to burnout include individuals who need to be in control, perfectionists or individuals with a high achieving personality.
The reality is that stress continues to play a major role in most careers. Is stress really out of control in most jobs or is it that we are getting better at identifying it? In the article called, “No Workaholics Allowed”, in the February 2014 issue of INC. magazine, they shared shocking research about stress and hard work. In this study, 67% of employees who worked 11 hours a day had an increased risk of developing heart disease compared to those that worked eight hours a day. There is a 3X increased likelihood that those who work 50-hours a week will develop an alcohol – abuse problem. This research found that 50% of employees are less productive as a result of stress. The evidence is there but yet so many continue to pretend that their burnout symptoms are like a bad dream that will just disappear the next day.
We all know that part of the burnout equation is that work is busier than ever. We have all heard the latest mantra “more with less.” What is the answer?
Resiliency strategies for renewing energy and focus
In order to combat stress and better adapt to the demands of work. I’ve developed a series of resiliency strategies that help mitigate the effects of burnout. After 15 years within my own coaching business, I feel strongly that by focusing on resiliency, it can make an impact in preventing many symptoms of burnout. We cannot have burnout ruin our career and personal life. In one case, my client, Sunita Badola and I were interviewed by the Wall Street Journal article on How Busy Colleagues Spread Second Hand Stress. This article shared how one stressed out employee can create anxiety and cause a domino stress effect to other individuals they work with. Sunita and I focused on resiliency strategies as part of the coaching process and she was able to see a huge impact in her energy and how she felt personally and professionally. One of the recharge strategies she learned and now practices is to host quarterly lunches with her five reports to “talk about fun stuff and get to know one another.” Sunita has also learned that building resiliency is a constant process and it takes one being proactive to make a lasting impact but the results are worth it.
My leadership coaching focuses on enhancing productivity and building resiliency strategies into every session. Often a client will say, “I do not need resiliency strategies, I have it all under control.” Then when I interview their reports and colleagues they describe them as always stressed out and out of focus. While stress has several positive motivational features, in unhealthy amounts, it can interfere with someone’s career and personal life in many harmful ways. Resiliency is the ability to bounce back and deal with change. When we focus on our resiliency we have more positive energy to deal with challenges and a more balanced life.
Managing and preventing burnout: 5 strategies
With each of these key resiliency areas, there are powerful questions we can ask ourselves to see where we measure on the resiliency score card.
Beginning with self-assessment, how is your career fit? Do you dread the daily grind? Do you presently use your strengths in your career? Are you proactive with designing your career and life or are you passive and just letting things happen? Are you aware of your personality style and how it affects how you handle stress?
How is your mindset? We all know the research on happiness and the question of how full is your glass? Do you have fun and celebrate accomplishments on a regular basis? Do you set a regular intention on how you want your life and career to be or are you on auto-pilot?
My favorite resiliency strategy is recharge. What do you do to charge and recharge your battery? Are you like a rubber band, stretched so thin that you feel like you are ready to snap? Do you exercise regularly? Do you get the amount of sleep that you need to be at your best on a regular basis? How about nutrition and when is your next vacation planned?
How is your support system? Are you around people that move you forward or stop you in your tracks? Even the people you choose to be around during your personal time can affect your resiliency. When I think of my most resilient clients they have a key group of individuals that they really trust and can get feedback from. Do you have four to six people that you can share career stories and feedback with?
Becoming comfortable with personal innovation: we can all change
Innovation is not just for Apple and Disney. What are you doing in the next three months to learn something new and innovative? It can be a class, or as simple as reading a book in your career area or on-line blog reading. How are you keeping yourself cutting edge in this market? Do you know what your personal brand is? Coca-Cola, Target and Starbucks, all do a great job at this. Do you regularly get feedback like the best brands do?
New habits begin best when timing is right and the individual is motivated. Change can be difficult but rewarding as you begin to see the results of your new habits. Resiliency strategies can be effectively implemented in time frames of three to six months; at this time, it’s a great moment to step back and review: what’s changed? What new habits have you developed?
Resiliency strategies can have exceptional benefits for preventing burnout and enhancing productivity. Resiliency strategies can become habits. Start small today for lasting impact and to prevent burn out in your future.