Occupational Burnout: We all have it. Now what do we do?

To paraphrase Emily Dickinson, I am burnt out. You are burnt out too. That is a good way to summarize Jessica Rose‘s self-sustainability talk at this year’s Monkigras conference in London. In fact, she talked openly about just getting past a burnout while talking about being burnt out.

This year’s craft conference was centered on the topic of sustainability, typically in the software space. Jessica’s talk was accepted because of the usually ignored logic that you can build sustainable software or a sustainable business without self-sustainability.

“It would be lovely to talk about life as your craft that you want to bring out your best every day. But, if you’re really burned out, you’re miserably treading water at best,” she said.

The Science Behind Occupational Burnout

In short, it is all in our head.

Cognitive Psychology works with mental processes like perception, mechanical thinking, computational thinking, learning, and memory. One of the main areas is working memory or the ideal capacity you have to fit things into your mental model, and this memory can change throughout your life and even day to day. Your cognitive load includes how much of your mental effort is being used, even in the background.

“The closer you get to using up your working memory, the worse you will be at your job,” Jessica explained, using this nearly overflowing cup as a metaphor.

What is Occupational Burnout?

Job burnout or occupational burnout is the mental, emotional and physical exhaustion that comes along with not feeling good enough at your job, not feeling valued enough, or not feeling like you can get everything done.

Jessica says it’s “The result of long-term stress that feels unavoidable…that toxic job, that thing that you feel like you can’t get away from.”

It mirrors the symptoms of depression while at the same time leading to physical issues like headaches.

Think you aren’t on your way to burnout? Think again. First answer these questions from the Mayo Clinic:

  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started once you arrive?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
  • Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
  • Have your sleep habits or appetite changed?
  • Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, backaches or other physical complaints?

All of us in the audience were nodding along like “Well, yeah, duh, it’s work.” to many of these questions. But, according to the Mayo Clinic, if you have one or more of these symptoms you may be suffering from burnout.

And I repeat, I am burnt out. You are burnt out too.

So what can we do about it?

How to overcome your almost certain occupational burnout

Jessica says recovering from burnout really depends on how quickly you catch it. Sadly, if you’re getting burnt out for the first time, you won’t know until you hit a crisis point.

“If you’re wondering if you’re at the point of crisis? You should see a doctor. You are,” she said.

Recovering from burnout will take a long time. Some people talk about it taking a year or more, while others a few weeks or months.

“It’s gonna suck for awhile,” Jessica said.

Can you afford to take a large chunk of time off of work?

But if you can’t take a chunk of time off work…

Jessica recommends you try and do less in ways that aren’t going to screw up your life — be nice to spouse, keep up with tax deadlines, but learn to start saying no and outsource as much as you can.

Following the rules of flight attendants that always remind us to put on our own oxygen mask before our children’sor to quote my father figure who always says “You can’t take care of anyone else until you take care of yourself.” — you need to work hard to help yourself first. And be willing to ask people for help.

Finally, you need to learn selective emotional investment — how to pick your battles. 

She puts a mountain in a nutshell that may be simpler said than done but it’s a start:

“Ask people for help. Don’t be a jerk. Do less. Do less stressful stuff. Decide where you’re going to fight.”

You may even gain a post-burnout secret superpower, like not caring if someone thinks you’re pregnant when you’re not. You can find better ways to spend that limited energy resources.

“Please don’t burn out if you can avoid it, but if you do get to get over it, run cheerfully on 20 percent and have fun with it,” Jessica concluded.

Finally, if you hear a teammate say “I’m so burned out,” don’t just brush it off as a common turn of phrase. It’s a common turn of phrase because it’s a really, really, really common problem. It’s your job as a manager and as a human being to look for ways to help people step back off the edge of burnout, but also it’s your job to make sure you ask for feedback on your help because what works for you may not work for them.

Once you’ve taken care of yourself you can take care of others. And it all starts with the genuine question “How are you doing today?”

How have you identified and overcome your occupational burnout? Tell us @Happy_Melly and @jesslynnrose! 

This isn’t the first time we’ve written about this topic and it won’t be the last. If affects far too many aspects of business, including the most important part: the people! Here are some other coverage you should dive into:

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This article is written by Jennifer Riggins on February 7th 2018.

You can connect with Jennifer Riggins in Google+.