Burnout is for wimps
I’ve met, or worked with, plenty of people who think this. Yes, really! *eye roll*
And maybe you work, or have worked somewhere, where this clearly was the thinking or culture?
Being part of a company where being ill or even reaching a point of burnout is seen as weakness.
It can feel as though if you aren’t capable of juggling a million plates, working all hours, getting by on minimum days off, and never complaining, then you aren’t destined to be successful.
You are on the train to loserville.
Interestingly, in 2019, the World Health Organisation recognised burnout and provided more detail in its 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11). It is described as an occupational phenomenon (although not a medical condition).
They describe burnout as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:
feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
reduced professional efficacy.”
Mental Health UK’s survey in 2021 of 2,099 adults and their perception of burnout brought up all of the above symptoms too. They showed that 85% of adults could correctly identify the symptoms of burnout.
We can recognise burnout but there is work to do within organisations.
This isn’t a condition that we ever want someone to get to. This isn’t something that a week off, or a long bank holiday weekend is going to sort.
Stress responses were designed to help humans in short term situations. Fleeing a sabre-tooth tiger or kicking with all your might after falling into a river, for example.
Long-term stress that is drawn out, and working in a physically/emotionally draining role, often paves the pathway to burnout.
From my own experiences (more than once!), by the time I reached this place, in most instances it was too late.
As an employer you’ve lost me. I’ve given every last ounce of my soul and energy to the mission.
There’s no amount of holidays, wellbeing suggestions, changes to a role or routine that will make any difference. It is time to check out and find the next opportunity.
Isn’t that your fault James?
I see a shift from the individual being turned into a victim, to more responsibility also being placed on a manager or company.
After all, we have all been in positions where we might be bringing up that we are struggling, or cannot complete all of our workload in the allotted time. Maybe we have shown a change in mood and behaviour, and are taking more sick days or needing more frequent holidays due to this.
But again, if you work in a culture where sickness and burnout are not really understood, valued as a condition, and puts you into the “weak employee’ box, then no matter what you say, this leads you to a point of not saying anything anymore.
It makes no difference, so why bring it up?
This may lead to people ‘masking’ what they are really thinking and feeling, not producing at the same levels and getting by with minimum effort, and looking around for the next job or opportunity to come along.
And what effect does being in a dark place have on the rest of your team? A bad apple can affect the rest of the basket over time. Overall productivity drops, sickness spikes, and I’ve been in places where resignations became a regular fixture on a Friday!
Clearly, burnout is the culmination of many variables over time.
So, what are 3 suggestions to consider?
Companies have become really good at implementing metrics to measure and manage performance; average call times, tasks completed, orders input, sales made, deadlines met, new clients onboarded, reduced waste, etc.
Why is it that we don’t proactively look at the individual creating such outputs? Their health, wellbeing, and individual needs.
It would be like Formula One teams, and Olympic Cycling teams, focusing on the machinery, the strategies, the tactics, the processes, but doing nothing linked to optimising and managing the health and performance of the human needed to execute these things.
It doesn’t have to be as scientific as this in your company obviously.
People are the best to ask what would help them. Is flexibility welcomed on particular days or times for the school run? Do they prefer working at home on Monday and Friday to miss the stressful commute? Is there a health condition that could be supported in a different way?
In 1-2-1 check ins, how are they feeling in general about their workload, and ability to manage it? What can be done to help with this?
Of course, this would require a level of psychological safety and the person responsible for this to not make it a tick box exercise.
If your managers are the sort who believe sickness and burnout are for wimps, then you have to consider how to make this work with them in place. What training and development do they need also?
I am seeing more companies offer certain perks to employees that support wellbeing.
This could be in the form of;
Days off for birthdays,
Wellbeing days off - that are in addition to general holiday time,
4-day work weeks,
Budgets for personal training and development, or investing in a new hobby.
I am a believer that if people are treated well and supported to be and do their best then you will retain the best people and maintain a healthier / happier staff.
Don’t Focus on Weaknesses
I had to include the approach of focusing on each individual’s strengths. I’ve written of my own personal experiences where I was bringing ideas and initiatives to improve how we worked or served customers. And often on the occasions where I was shot down, ignored, or given a talking to by management, I now see I was using my strengths.
These went unappreciated, not used or developed for the benefit of the business.
The result? I was disengaged, had lower energy / mood, was frustrated and angry at not doing what made sense, and I worked harder to prove my points and my worth.
Then I experienced failing health, and burnout.
Every human is unique. We can’t just put everyone to work in the exact same way and expect to get the best from them consistently.
So, uncover what someone’s strengths are.
I am a Gallup Certified Strengths Coach and love the Clifton Strengths assessment to do just this. Connecting with who you are innately, what you are good at, aiming strengths at goals, and using these to drive coaching conversations in your team can have a significant impact.
Gallup’s research shows that employees that use their strengths every day are happier and healthier. They are 6 times as likely to be more engaged in their work, and 3 times as likely to report having an excellent quality of life.
The strengths reports give you the foundation and common language to get started with this.
These 3 suggestions, I firmly believe would have made a huge difference for me in every situation where I burned out.
They would have, potentially, helped me to avoid what was extremely poor mental and physical health in the end.
And if you consider the impact for companies, Deloitte estimated that poor mental health cost employers up to £56 billion per year in 2020-2021.
What could you start today as an initiative in your company?