How to Identify, Prevent and Avoid Burnout at Work
Burnout leers many entrepreneurs and business owners into its trap. But it comes with many negative side effects, ones that can take a bigger toll than just a few days of missed work.
Burnout is very common among entrepreneurs and even among ambitious professionals. I've dealt with burnout many times over the years.
Statistics show that entrepreneurs tend to sleep less and work more hours in a day. A Small Business Trends report said that 70% of business owners and self-employed work past their bedtime. Elon Musk says he worked 120 hours a week. Some entrepreneurs work more than 18 hours a day. The result of overworking comes with a huge personal cost — so let's explore how to avoid it.
Burnout is recognized as a break between what people are and what they have to do, and it is typically experienced as emotional exhaustion or depersonalization (Olson et al., 2019; Kolomitro, Kenny, & Sheffield, 2019).
Its impact is considerable.
Indeed, burnout among physicians, which is twice that of the general public, leads to emotional and physical withdrawal from work and can negatively impact safe, high-quality healthcare for patients (Olson et al., 2019).
The effect of burnout is widespread. The impact of increasing workload, a perceived lack of control, and job insecurity lead to high turnover, reduced productivity, and poor mental health (Kolomitro et al., 2019).
8 Strategies to Prevent Employee Burnout
Research into burnout in the workplace recognizes employee wellbeing through four dimensions (Hyett & Parker, 2015):
Balancing all four factors is essential to overall employee wellbeing and reduces the likelihood of long-term and ultimately overwhelming pressure.
The following strategies can help find that balance and protect against burnout (Saunders, 2021; Boyes, 2021).
When workload and capacity are in balance, it is possible to get work done and find time for professional growth, development, rest, and work recovery.
Assess how you are doing in each of the following activities:
Planning your work. Do you know what work is coming? What will you be working on next week? Do you have a shareable plan?
Delegating tasks. Sometimes we steer away from handing over work to others, but it can be positive for both parties.
Saying no. Saying no is necessary when you have too much work or someone else could perform it.
Letting go of perfectionism. Sometimes producing a perfect piece of work is not required; sometimes, good enough is all that is needed.
If you are experiencing any of the symptoms of burnout, try to focus on each of the above actions. Proactive effort to reduce workload can be highly effective at removing some stressors impacting burnout.
Feeling out of control, a lack of autonomy, and inadequate resources impact your ability to succeed at what you are doing and contribute to burnout.
Do you get calls from your boss or answer emails late into the night or over the weekend?
Consider how you can regain control. Agree on a timetable for when you are available and what resources you need to do your job well. Gaining a sense of control over your environment can increase your sense of autonomy.
Community is essential to feeling supported. While you may not be able to choose who you work with, you can invest time and energy in strengthening the bonds you share with your coworkers and boss.
Positive group morale, where you can rely on one other, can make the team more robust and reduce the likelihood of burnout.
A sense of fairness at work can be helped by feeling valued and recognized for the contributions you make.
Let it be known that you would like to be mentioned as a contributor or become involved in presenting some of the team’s successes.
“Burnout isn’t simply about being tired,” writes Saunders (2021). When your values cannot align with those of your organization, you may need to consider whether it is time to look for new opportunities.
Determine if you can find compatibility in your current position or whether another organization might be better suited to your values.
After delivering something highly demanding (cognitively, emotionally, or physically), it may be beneficial to switch to a less complex task.
Swapping between tasks of varying difficulty on a daily, weekly, or monthly basis can be an excellent way to regain balance and give yourself a break.
After putting together a complex report, presentation, or analysis, why not plan the rest of your week for organizing emails into folders?
We sometimes feel unable to stop. We check emails while in line for a coffee and type up notes on the flight back from a business meeting. While it can seem essential when you are busy to keep pushing ahead, it is vital to take breaks. Use spare time to read a book, listen to music, talk to a friend, or run through breathing exercises.
Taking time out for yourself is crucial to your wellbeing and will ultimately benefit your performance.
Stress and tension take their toll physically. You may notice tight shoulders or headaches. Learning to recognize times when you are most stressed or anxious can help. When you do, find a moment to take some slow breaths or go for a walk.
Mindfulness techniques can be incredibly helpful in hitting reset and regaining focus.
Set work boundaries
There will be times when working outside core hours may be necessary, but there is still a need to agree on typical workday expectations. Regularly answering emails late in the evening or over the weekend can increase employee anxiety and the sense of never leaving work.
Setting boundaries, flexible working, and providing additional time off can restore work–life balance.
Humans are curious.
We need a degree of stress to prevent boredom and frustration.
However, too much can lead to poor decision making and ineffective communication, negatively impact mental health, and ultimately cause burnout (Bruce, 2009).
Stress not only takes a toll on our physical and mental wellbeing, but also narrows our outlook, making long-term strategic thinking more difficult (Peart, 2021).
“Burnout is experienced as emotional exhaustion or depersonalization” (Olson et al., 2019) and is the ultimate destination for long-term stress. It can harm physical health, psychological wellbeing, and performance at work (Olson et al., 2019; Maslach & Leiter, 2008).