I watched my client flinch, as yet another email pinged its arrival with an audible bell. Then a Teams message arrived – a different sound. Her shoulders slumped. Her eyes flashed fear.
“I’m so sorry, I do need to reply to this one.”
She was in the middle of a mentoring call – one she had already had to rearrange three times, due to colleagues booking meetings for times when she was already marked as busy.
After she had spent a minute replying, I asked her whether it was true that she had needed to reply immediately. Was it really business-critical?
“No. But if I don’t reply, the pings keep coming, and I just don’t think I can take that anymore.” And she started to cry.
She’s in a leadership role and has been putting a brave face on for too long. She physically has too much work, but the systems her company is using have trained everyone in the department to expect instant responses from everyone.
This is one of the factors triggering a burnout problem that they can no longer ignore.
I’ve spent the two years of the pandemic researching burnout – and its link to Imposter Syndrome. You can find the white paper here.
Burnout is a state of extreme mental, physical and emotional exhaustion. It’s a sliding scale, with plenty of warning signs along the way. And at its far end, it can lead to someone needing to take many months off work, to recover.
Burnout isn’t a sign that someone is weak. It’s a sign that they’ve been strong for too long.
They have been pushing on through and pretending they’re ok, when they’re not. And the past two years of the pandemic have made it much worse.
What Are The Burnout Warning Signs?
Someone who is burning out is likely to be exhausted. At a neurological level, it affects our ability to concentrate, to process and retain information, and increases mistakes.
My burnout research study analysis showed that, based on their responses, 34% of respondents are currently at high risk of burning out.
Line managers and HR teams need to be aware of the warning signs. You need to be looking for changes in behaviour, which might include:
- Struggling to concentrate
- Working longer hours, to compensate for slower working and mistakes
- Making mistakes, particularly with attention to detail
- Irritability & negativity
- Low mood
- Lack of motivation / enthusiasm
- Shorter fuse with colleagues
- Regularly switching off video on calls
- Unexplained stress-related symptoms / pain
Burnout isn’t always about slowing down and exhaustion. It can trigger the sympathetic nervous system’s fight-flight-freeze response – many people with burnout rely on the corresponding adrenalin and cortisol to function. And this can make people irritable, short-fused, critical and even aggressive.
Impact Of Burnout
Burnout in team members affects individual performance, and the wider team. It reduces productivity, prevents innovation, and leads to errors.
It is a major cause of sick leave and can cause previously high-performing people to quit.
The stress element of coping with burnout can create toxic teams, negatively impacting psychological safety at work.
People running burnout tend to blame and judge themselves, and the shame this triggers means they work hard to hide it.
The Summer Holiday Trap
My research shows that the summer holidays hold two risks, for those struggling with burnout.
For many people, a couple of weeks off will help them to top up their batteries enough to feel that they can ‘cope’ again. They are likely to return from leave feeling more positive and enthusiastic, and more energised, masking the burnout problem.
But the problem is that you can’t fix burnout with a couple of weeks of self-care. You need to address the three pillars of burnout – Culture, Environment and Habit (see the white paper for more details).
So these people risk ending up feeling even more demoralised and burnt out, soon after returning.
The second option is that they realise, whilst on holiday, that they don’t want to do this anymore.
The contrast of switching off from stress and pushing on through, whilst they’re away, could trigger what I call a ‘basta-moment’ – my favourite Italian word, meaning “enough!”
This is the decision someone makes that things simply have to change. If they can’t see any way of removing the burnout triggers from their job, they decide to quit.
And my research shows we could be looking at a wave of resignations, later in the summer.
What Can You Do?
There are things you can do, starting today, that will genuinely reduce the risk of burnout for your team members. Immediate and longer-term suggestions for dealing with the Culture, Environment and Habits triggers are here.
And perhaps one of the most important things you can do, first, is to talk to people. If you’re worried about a colleague or a loved-one, have that conversation.
If that convo feels like it might be difficult for you, here’s a free advice guide, to give you tips on how to broach the topic and what not to say! It works for both burnout and Imposter Syndrome conversations.
If you want to find out about scalable solutions that can create breakthroughs in minutes, not months, my 5-step Natural Resilience Method is a research-backed, proven process to create high-impact, low-effort, sustainable change.
Here’s where to book a call to discuss your organisation’s needs and how we might work together. I currently have two client places left for this type of project in Q4 and am taking bookings for 2023. But if we decide to work together on this, there are things I can recommend you do, to start to make a difference before then