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Dr Lucy Hone: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BURNOUT

Sophie Waldron
18 Aug 2021
The following article was written by Dr Lucy Hone from the University of Canterbury and the New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing & Resilience.

These are challenging times, requiring us to consider how our thoughts and actions help or hinder our capacity for resilience – both at the personal and team level. Dr Lucy Hone from the University of Canterbury and the New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing & Resilience suggests that if we want to avoid burnout at work, we need to understand it much better.

Have you ever laid in bed and found yourself thinking, ‘I’m done, I cannot do this job any longer, I’m absolutely exhausted - there’s really no point in me getting up, nothing I seem to do makes a difference’? Burnout is a much talked about, read about and feared workplace syndrome, but sadly it also little understood.

Demystifying the myths of burnout:

  1. Burnout doesn’t come on suddenly. Instead, it’s more likely that you didn’t see it coming as you’re not good at reading the signs. There’s a fine line between super-productivity and burnout because the people most at risk are those who love their jobs and derive a sense of identity and meaning from them. In this sense, burnout comes from hyper-engagement, when people erroneously believe that the solution lies in working harder and end up neglecting the world beyond work. Doing so puts you at risk.
  2. Burnout isn’t just about exhaustion. Science has in fact identified three different dimensions (or symptoms) of burnout: physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion; over-arching cynicism; and a feeling of ineffectiveness. When people burnout they often express cynicism that the amount of work they have to get through is even achievable, and consequently wind up feeling really useless and ineffective. The truth is the demands of the job exceed the resources at their disposal.
  3. Burnout is an individual’s inability to cope with stress. Far from being individual failing, burnout out should be viewed as an individual response to systemic challenges or sustained stress with no let up. For this reason, it is irresponsible for organisations to offer staff resilience training if they are not prepared to back this up with a realistic and transparent appraisal of how workplace burdens are impacting their teams. If burnout results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, prevention is as much the responsibility of executive leaders and people leaders as it is personal.

Six ways to prevent burnout in yourself and others:

Focusing on these drivers of burnout supports sustainable high performance among your teams, particularly when working in VUCA (Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity, and Ambiguity) environments:

  1. Work overload: Make sure work volumes don’t outstrip available time and resources. Consider how you can reduce different aspects of workload, such as meetings, emails, zoom calls – for yourself and your teams.
  2. Lack of autonomy: When workers have insufficient authority over the way they work (are micro-managed), or insufficient access to the resources required to do their job effectively, cynicism ensues. Humans work best when they are given the opportunity to make choices and decisions for themselves.
  3. Feeling under-valued: Whether it’s in the form of praise, pay, or even personal pride, we also crave reward. Lack of recognition from management, colleagues, and clients pushes workers to tune out and stop caring about the end results.
  4. Lack of support: The overall quality of social interactions in your workplace matters: the better your relationships at work, and the better and faster conflicts are resolved, the lesser the odds of burnout. Workers need to feel resourced and supported, that their opinions count and they can be themselves.
  5. Unfairness: Fairness is paramount: your teams will be far more concerned about the fairness of your conflict resolution processes than how favourable the outcome is. Make sure their job descriptions match their contribution and give credit where/when it is due.
  6. Values disconnect: Employees are particularly susceptible to burnout when a disconnect exists (or arises) between their deeply held personal values and the environment they work in. It’s virtually impossible to feel good about your work when a values conflict exists.

Signs of burnout:

Exhaustion:

  • Feeling tired most days/prolonged lack of energy
  • Dreading the day/week ahead
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Forgetfulness
  • Reduced concentration/attention (to the point that it gets in the way of your daily functioning)
  • Physical symptoms like chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, stomach pain, dizziness, fainting, and/or headaches
  • Lowered immunity leading to increased illness
  • Not feeling hungry and skipping/forgetting to eat meals
  • Feeling anxious, trapped and/or depressed
  • Frequent angry outbursts and serious arguments

Signs of Cynicism/Feeling detached or removed:

  • Loss of enjoyment (not wanting to go to work, avoiding projects)
  • Pessimism (overly negative and/or doubting coworkers trustworthiness and ability to get the job done)
  • Isolating yourself (at work and at home)
  • Disconnection/detachment from others

Signs of Ineffectiveness and Lack of Accomplishment:

  • Apathy and hopelessness (“nothing is going right” “nothing I do matters”, “what’s the point?”)
  • Irritability
  • Reduced productivity (running around like a headless chicken; feeling less productive than you once did, despite putting in long hours; often leads to long lists of unfinished projects).

For more information on Dr Lucy Hone click here.

Stay safe & well during this time. Kia Kaha!

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