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Meeting the challenge of burnout

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While often work related, burnout can happen when you’re simply overwhelmed and drained by the demands of life.

While often work related, burnout can happen when you’re simply overwhelmed and drained by the demands of life.

While often work related, burnout can happen when you’re simply overwhelmed and drained by the demands of life.

The demands of life can push us to travel at top speed – the equivalent of moving at 120 km an hour on the motorway. You can’t move at that pace all the time without adverse consequences.

The “occupational phenomenon” of burnout, so called by the WHO is a condition that is ‘the result of chronic stress in the workplace that hasn’t been successfully managed.  It happens after prolonged and excessive emotional, physical, and mental stress.

While often work related, it can happen when you’re simply overwhelmed and drained by the demands of life.  It has 3 main dimensions: feelings of exhaustion or ‘no or low energy’;  negativity or cynicism; and reduced efficacy.

A recent survey from HRLocker, revealed that over half (52%) of full-time workers in Ireland are experiencing burnout. Rates were highest for Gen-Z (aged 18 – 24) at 58%, and then for Millennials (aged 25 – 40) – 57%.  Rates for Gen-X (aged 41 – 56) were 39% and for baby boomers (aged 57 – 66)  52%.

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Inability to create the right work life balance is also a cause of burnout.  Remote working and the increased role of technology in our lives and other factors have made it difficult for some to have healthy boundaries between work and home generating further imbalance.    The top reasons cited for burnout in the HRLocker survey were varied: 27% Pressure to be ‘always on’, 24% Unmanageable workload, 16% Lack of control over work, 13% Lack of support from manager, 10% Unfair treatment, 5% Inadequate pay and 5% Other.

Sixty six percent of respondents said that Covid-19 and lockdown had a negative impact on stress and caused increased burnout.  Eighteen percent felt the pandemic had enabled them to create a better balance.   The survey found that some industries are more prone to burnout than others.  People working in situations with frequent deadlines and high level of public interaction were more likely to report feelings of burnout.

The net result is that 68% of respondents working for not-for-profits feel burnt out! Some professions like teachers and healthcare workers are also generally more prone to burnout.  Like with anything prevention is always better than cure.  This is one reason why wellbeing at work programmes are increasingly important to employers.   

When burn out sets in – it can take a long time to recover which is both a great cost to the organisation and the individual.  Bryan Robinson, a psychotherapist, professor at University of North Carolina, emphasises the distinction between burnout and stress. “You can recover from stress with certain management techniques, but burnout is a totally different animal resulting from cumulative stress that hasn’t been managed.  Once burnout gets it’s hooks into you, you can’t cure it by taking a long vacation, slowing down, or working fewer hours.”  

If you are feeling burnt-out, recognising it is the first step and there are lots of things you can do to help. 

Practice self-care.  Take care of your physical and mental health. 

Get the basics wright – sleep, relaxation, food etc.   See what is stressing you and take a step back and change perspective.  Build regular breaks into your daily life.  Take small breaks every few hours to move or have a glass of water.  Stop for lunch.    

Exercise more. Exercise is energising for both the mind and body. 

Meditate.  Meditation is a work out for your mind making it strong balanced and flexible.   

Have good boundaries. Say no more often.  Create structure in your day by not checking emails at night or not taking work phone calls after certain hours.  And be aware of how you are doing so you prevent problems escalating.  


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