We have all heard the term “burnout” used in some way or another throughout our careers. We might have uttered the words “I feel completely burnt out” or someone might have warned us “You should use your time off, otherwise you will get burnt out.” But what exactly is “burnout”?
Burnout is a state of complete physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion caused by prolonged stress in the workplace. Essentially, if you feel exhausted, have to drag yourself to your desk every day, are starting to hate your job, and/or feel as though you are less capable of performing the tasks associated with your job, you are probably experiencing some level of job burnout.
If you are like me, though, you might be wondering “Well, how can I not feel burnt out these days?” With the pandemic, waiting for vaccinations, working from home, distance learning and/or childcare, the economy, an overall sense of uncertainty—it is impossible not to feel some level of stress and anxiety. And if you feel that way, chances are your employees feel that way as well. As a leader, there is even more pressure to model behavior and set the “right” tone for your team. So, the question then becomes: how can you provide your team the support they need while also coping with the symptoms of burnout yourself? Well, there are quite a few tips out there; here are a few that I recommend.
Set the right example
The way you act, the behavior you model, sets a precedent for your team. If you run from meeting to meeting without taking a break or even worse, take vacation time but actually work on your day off, what sort of message are you sending to your team members? I’ll answer that: a bad one! If you are always operating at warp speed, your team may see that as your expectation. You need to set the appropriate tone for your team. Encourage regular breaks during the workday by taking them yourself. Take some time and disconnect from work: go for a walk, grab a coffee, eat lunch somewhere OTHER than your desk. Make breaks a regular part of your routine, and your employees will follow suit. Equally as important is limiting your work at night and on the weekends. It may feel like a great burden has been lifted by getting that email out at 9pm or sending that document out for review on a Sunday afternoon—it is finally off your plate! However, keep in mind that by getting that email or that document off your plate, you just put it on to someone else’s. And when that happens after work hours or over a weekend, you may be inadvertently sending the message “I’m working, and you should be, too.”
Encourage the creation of a dedicated workspace
Because of the pandemic, you and your team may have had to make the transition to working remotely. If you already have a home office, you are in luck. If you don’t, working from home can present a myriad of challenges. Depending on where you set up, there will inevitably be distractions. You will likely be distracted by roommates/partners/spouses, children, and/or pets. Or you could simply be distracted by everything around you: the sink full of dishes, the overflowing laundry basket, the unmade beds. The biggest challenge of working from home is that there is no separation between your work life and your personal life. The lines become muddied, the days tend to blend together, and you never get to truly disconnect. Being unable to disconnect can lead to increased levels of stress and anxiety and eventually, you guessed it, burnout. So, what can you do? Encourage your employees to create a dedicated workspace within their home so that they can “arrive to” and “leave from” work as they normally would. If possible, see if your company is willing to provide some sort of financial stipend to your employees to assist in this effort. Having dedicated workspaces will help your team members create separation between their professional and personal lives, thereby reducing the opportunity for burnout.
Shut off email and work notifications outside work hours
If you are anything like me, you have your work email set up on your phone (because it’s convenient, of course!). And those work emails and notifications come at all hours of the day. Because we are working from home (heck, we are home quite a lot these days), it is easy to send off a quick response to an email at any time of day—even on what is appropriately your own personal time. We exist in a time when the employee is always “on,” but being “on” 24/7 leads to exhaustion, resentment, and again, burnout. To nip this in the bud, shut off your email and any work notifications when you are done working for the day, and encourage your employees to do the same. This will help everyone, including yourself, separate from work and allow the necessary time for rest and rejuvenation.
Allow for flexible schedules
Working in an office pre-pandemic, you and your team might have worked a traditional “9 to 5” sort of day. With the transition to working remotely and the disruptions and distractions it causes, it is becoming harder and harder to work a set schedule. More often than not, folks are fitting in their work in chunks throughout the day. You might find your employees starting to work earlier in the morning before their kids start remote learning. Or you might find them working later in the evening to concentrate better on the tasks at hand. Either way, allowing your team members flexibility with their schedules is crucial. Strict “9 to 5” schedules will lead to conflicts between work and family obligations, which will in turn lead to increased mental exhaustion for your team. Allowing your employees the flexibility to create schedules that work for them and their families will not only lessen the likelihood of burnout but will create a sense of mutual respect.
Flip the mindset around taking vacation
Taking vacation time is supposed to be a pleasant experience, whether you are traveling to a tropical island or simply hanging out at home. Vacation is essentially forced rest. You are able to take the opportunity to relax, recharge your batteries, and “shut off” for a period of time. However, there is sometimes a negative mindset around vacation time that lends itself to increased levels of stress and anxiety. It begins with the preparation before the vacation: I need to draft up my out of office notes, who is going to handle these projects in my absence, what happens if something goes wrong? Then, huzzah, you are finally on vacation and are able to relax…until the night before you return, when you begin to worry about catching up. You flip on your computer, open your inbox, and start reading. And you immediately start to wonder “Was that vacation even worth it?”
The answer is “YES!” No matter how many emails you come back to, no matter how much work you have to catch up on, no matter how many fires you have to put out come Monday morning, taking time for yourself is always worth it. Time off will not only help avoid burnout, but it will also lead to increased productivity upon your return. And you really must resist the temptation to “check in” once a day to stay on top of things, as that will not help you truly disconnect. So, be sure to take vacation time and step away completely; encourage your employees to do the same. You will all be the better for it.
I have a lot more tips to share, but with the goal of avoiding “reader burnout,” I’ve decided to save Part 2 for later. Stay tuned for the second part of this blog, providing even more tips to help both you and your team avoid burnout, posting next week!
Are you, like so many others, feeling burnout in yourself or your team? Could you use some additional PM support? We want to hear from you! Email our team to share your thoughts on this topic, or visit our website to learn more about Lumina Datamatics.