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Burnout at Work? Part 1 of 4

December 16, 2019 | Uncategorized

Photo by Phil Robinson on Flickr

As defined by healthgrades.com, burnout is “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. As the stress continues, you begin to lose the interest and motivation that led you to take on a certain role in the first place.” Specifically, workplace burnout can have devastating effects on your company but, more importantly, on a person as well as your people, their family, and their friends. A recent survey by Gallup found that 23 percent of workers felt burnt out in their jobs very often or always, and 44 percent felt burnt out sometimes.

My Experience

I have experienced workplace burnout. After reflecting on the situation as well as gaining some awareness, I can pinpoint why burnout is occurring. My exhaustion is happening because I am not paying attention to my wellbeing and specific to my career, my workplace wellbeing. This workplace wellbeing I am describing is best broken down into four pillars. I use pillars as an analogy because if one begins to erode, the entire structure begins to be compromised. These pillars I have defined include setting healthy boundaries, gaining perspective, reconnecting with a mission, and practicing self-care. I will address all of these in separate posts but will discuss the first one now.

Setting Healthy Boundaries

In past encounters, I have been able to trace my feelings of workplace burnout back to not intentionally establishing and keeping boundaries with other people as well as with me. Here are some examples of both:

Setting Boundaries with Others:

  • Saying “No” for me has been a must in gaining workplace wellbeing. Some examples include when people come to my desk or office to discuss business or even personal matters. If possible, it especially helped to do this with my direct report. Not all my bosses respected these boundaries, but when they did, I gained more respect for them. I also had to learn to say no to other projects not required by my job description or driven by my direct report. Sometimes co-workers or other senior members of my employer ask me to get involved in a project when I had a full plate myself. There were times when I even needed my direct boss to act as a “gatekeeper” of my time when senior members insisted on my involvement.
  • I also had to learn to set reasonable deadlines for my work. Often, I would ask my boss about when he or she wanted a specific project completed. They would respond, “As soon as possible.”. I would then impose a deadline on myself that I felt was reasonable. If they aren’t satisfied with my proposed due date and asked for the work to be finished earlier, I would not promise or guarantee completion by their designated time. I would say I will “do what I can.”

Setting Boundaries with Myself and My Time:

  • Turning off my phone notifications helps me relieve the anxiety that can ultimately be associated with burnout. I do not need to know every time I receive an email, social media like or message, or other non-time sensitive information. This practice especially helps when I am no longer at work, and my phone is near me. Who wants to be interrupted by an email that is urgent to the sender but not to me since  I’m currently not at work?
  • I often don’t answer phone calls. I want time to prepare to be entirely focused on the caller and their needs. If I am in the middle of another conversation or work activity, I find it hard to change focus quickly. I should finish what I’m doing then move onto the next thing.
  • I must take steps to eliminate negative self-talk, which says I’m not competent or experienced enough to do this work. It also means I need to stop playing tapes in my head of past negative conversations with others. I’m sure they aren’t reliving the situation on a constant loop. Why should I?
  • I also need to not focus on the future so much because it’s not here. The present moment is, though, and I have an opportunity to shape what’s going on right now.

Progress not Perfection

In setting boundaries, we should also know that we are not perfect. We will let others cross those boundaries at times and won’t be as diligent with our limitations for ourselves. That’s okay. When that happens, I refer back to eliminating negative self-talk.

What Say You?

How have you effectively set boundaries with others or yourself in the past? When is a time that you’ve failed? How did you recover?


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