Protect Yourself From Burnout: A Quick Guide

Feeling drained and lacking the normal drive you had for work? – you may be suffering from burnout. Across 2020-2021 we have been exposed to prolonged stressors – the Covid-19 pandemic, the yo-yo effect of restrictions and the isolation has plagued us all (pardon the pun).

Unlike depression, burnout is an ‘occupational phenomenon’, exclusively related to work rather than a clinical diagnosis or medical condition. While not a disease, burnout can act as a risk factor for physical health (e.g., coronary heart disease, gastrointestinal conditions) and psychological wellbeing (e.g., depression, insomnia). So, it’s important that we have a good look at how to protect ourselves.

When you are experiencing burnout, you will feel exhausted, cynical about your job and ineffective at work by not being as productive as you would like to be. Chronic and repeated stress at work often leads to burnout. On the opposite end of burnout is engagement, which is where we strive to be.

If we suffer from burnout, there is a greater chance that we will leave our jobs, profession or remain as ghosts in our roles. Follow these four steps to reduce the likelihood of developing burnout, and set up the necessary foundation for a fulfilling, optimistic and energising life.

1. Develop a greater sense of job control

Can you decide how you do your job and what you do at work? How about a say in decisions about work and the speed that you undertake tasks? Can you decided when to take a break and whether you can work flexibly?

If you answered no to any of these questions, you are likely lacking job control. Job control is how much discretion and autonomy we have to determine what we do and how we do it. It is crucial to assess and boost the level of control you have at work to prevent burnout.

According to self-determination theory (also called the JD-R model) we need to balance job demands (physical, psychological, social, and organisational aspects of the job) with job resources (aspects that support individuals to accomplish their tasks, such as time, skills, staff etc.,). To counter-act against burnout, we need feelings of control over our jobs as this acts as a strong resource to cope with job demands. Some tips to increase control include:

  • Speaking with your manager about increasing your level of autonomy at work. Consider discussing ways to increase your ability to make decisions about the pace of your work and how you tackle work projects.
  • Develop your skills and interest areas. You could sign up to free online courses to boost your skill-set or discuss with your manager the ability to gain professional development funding to attend external training.
  • Embracing job flexibility and gain control over your work schedule; this means speaking with your manager about what days and hours you will work.

2. If you can, reduce your workload

‘The key is not to prioritise what’s on your schedule, but to schedule your priorities’

Reducing workload is key to preventing stress and workload. It is important to acknowledge your limits and recognise that you cannot do it all. A key way to prevent excessive workload is to get comfortable with saying ‘no’ to those who keep allocating you work. This sets up strong boundaries in terms of workload and ensures you don’t get taken for granted at work.

  • Schedule and having regular catch ups with your manager. You can then keep them up-to-date on your workload status and exhaustion levels.
  • Set clear weekly or monthly priorities and goals (for example, at the beginning of the week choose 1-3 priority areas to focus on for that week). Or use the Franklin-Covey method of prioritising. This involves marking each task on your list as;A: Urgent and important
    B: Important but not urgent
    C: Urgent but not important
    D: Neither urgent or important

    Focus on the A tasks first before moving onto the B, C and D tasks. If you have recognised that you cannot achieve all the tasks on your to-do-list, then the D tasks are the ones you should leave undone. Ensure you only say to As and Bs, say maybe to Cs and no to the D type tasks.

3. Reward yourself

‘Unless individuals learn to recognize when they have done something well, discouragement is inevitable’ – Jason Selk

As humans, we have a natural ‘negativity bias’; a tendency to focus on negatives or short- coming. It’s important to make a conscious decision to reward ourselves for the work that we do. It is important to not just receive rewards from others but be intentionally kind and reward ourselves to ourselves and foster a sense of ‘self-compassion. Rewards and recognition may include;

  • Setting a daily, weekly or monthly reward for yourself, such as a massage, or a special dinner out.
  • Rewarding yourself daily for the most important activity or work task that you complete (like finishing writing up all your client notes for the day)
  • Ask for regular positive and constructive feedback from your manager and colleagues. Have annual pay reviews to ensure you are being fairly rewarded for your developed skills.
  • Book holidays or time to rest and do nothing to fully recharge.

4. Gain social support from your manager and colleagues

Social connection and contact is paramount to wellbeing. A sense of belonging is a strong intrinsic motivator, with Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs suggesting that feeling a sense of belonging is a strong motivator of human behaviour. At work, it’s important not to just ‘get along’ with colleagues, but foster strong social connections and get support when needed.

Tips for gaining social support include:

  • If working online, make an effort to schedule in a casual Zoom catch up with a colleague to talk about work and non-work-related topics of conversation. If in the office make a conscious effort to sit at the lunch table or join a colleague for a coffee run
  • Ensure you have weekly check-ins with your manager to assess your workload and gain regular feedback.

It is so important to invest in yourself and follow some of these strategies to prevent burnout and be more engaged. As we step into the holiday season, one of the biggest gifts you can present to yourself is prioritising your needs at work to have a more fulfilling, optimistic and energising life.

By Tess Collins, Psychologist