The three pillars of burnout: hiding in plain sight, and risking a silent epidemic in our hybrid-working world. But what is triggering burnout? And what can we do about it?
HR Directors are telling me that burnout is going to be one of the biggest challenges facing individuals and organisations in the second half of 2021. Most companies are keen to prevent it. But there are three things that even the 'good guys' are doing that can inadvertently trigger burnout for staff.
But before we get into those, my research has shown that there are three pillars to burnout, and that we need to address all three of them to truly prevent it, allowing people to thrive and to fulfil their potential. The core drivers for the mental, physical and emotional exhaustion that causes burnout fall under 3 categories:
The Three Pillars Of Burnout
⛔️ The Environment
This is our physical working space. Does it support the way we work best? Does it feel safe? Does it give us the interaction or quiet we need? Do we love working from home? Or do we dread the kids Zoom-bombing a board pitch and our clients knowing the colour of our dressing gown?
There's more to this than beanbags in meeting rooms. And hybrid working hot-desking will be a major trigger for many on this.
Our working environment, be it home, office or a favourite cafe, plays a role in the foundation layers of Maslow's Hierarchy Of Needs - in meeting our physiological needs and our sense of safety and security. It also hits the middle of his pyramid in our need for belonging.
Plenty of important work is going into how to make workplaces Covid-safe, but we need to be consciously aware of how these choices might impact how people then feel in the workplace. And I ran an inspirational interview with Joanna Rawbone on how we must consider the needs of introverts on this for the 2021 Lockdown Leadership Conference.
⛔️ The Culture
The second of the three pillars of burnout is our culture - both our national culture and that of our company.
Some national cultures have a work ethic that discourages people from taking the down-time they need to recharge their batteries. This was summed up brilliantly in a recent social media meme about out-of-office messages. Please forgive the cultural generalisations, it's satire, but commenters felt there was a lot of truth in it.
It described a fictional out-of-office message from a Southern European colleague: "I'm not working in August. See you in September."
Contrasted with a Northern American colleague: "I'm out of the office for heart surgery this afternoon, but please leave me a message and I'll get back to you as soon as the anaesthetic wears off."
Our cultural background influences our likelihood of burning out.
And when it comes to our employer, does our organisation genuinely support us thriving? This takes more than a free subscription to a mindfulness app and the occasional wellbeing day.
What are the 👉unofficial👈 expectations on workloads? On responding out-of-hours? How many 'pings' an hour interrupt us, triggering the stress response? Is there a culture of everything being urgent? Is working super-hard a badge of honour that is rewarded with promotion?
⛔️ Our Habits
Do our habits support us topping up our batteries or draining them? And going deeper than that, how are our thought habits impacting our energy levels?
Are the stories we tell ourselves making things better or worse? What is driving those habits? And how could we shift from 'fighting' to 'flowing' in our work?
My research shows that there's a direct correlation between Imposter Syndrome and burnout, in part due to our tendency to 'push on through' and set ourselves higher performance standards, if we're secretly running the fear of being 'found out' as not good enough. You can find out more about the link between lockdown, Imposter Syndrome and burnout here.
Our habits, deeply held beliefs, subconscious conditioning, and sense of self all impact the actions we take and how we feel about taking them, which explains why two people can be in the same environment and culture, but one will experience burnout and the other won't.
It doesn't mean one is wrong and the other is somehow better. Those who are close to burnout aren't weak. The problem is that they've been strong for too long.
As leaders, we have a responsibility to create cultures and environments that allow everyone to thrive. The three pillars of burnout need to be on our radar, especially as we make major decisions, like how we will make hybrid working work. [Did you catch the Lockdown Leadership Conference on Making Hybrid Work?]
The next epidemic will be mental health, unless we take massive action now. There's plenty we can do to prevent burnout - and it's easier than we might think.
Even with organisations passionate about wellbeing, in addition to the three pillars of burnout, there are 3 super-common things that can trigger burnout, which we have to ditch as we move towards hybrid working. My clients, students and readers tell me these three triggers are draining their batteries and likely to lead to burnout. They are:
Teams. Slack. WhatsApp. Email. Asana. Each beep interrupts our concentration and research has shown it can take up to fifteen minutes to get back in flow. The ping-sound can become a stress trigger, especially if someone is running hypervigilance or feeling long-term stressed, firing off the body's fight-flight freeze response.
🔺Too Many Meetings
It's incredibly common for people's working day to be over-filled with meetings and for them to have to start their 'actions' in the evening. Zoom-fatigue isn't just down to video conferencing. It's down to the fact that too many meetings are being scheduled.
My recent research showed that a shocking 62% of respondents estimate the number of meetings they now have in a week has nearly doubled since before the pandemic - because it's so much easier to book them and invite half the world.
And it's really common for people to be double or triple-booked for meetings, often going hours at a stretch without a comfort break.
🔺Everything Is Urgent
People feel under more pressure than ever before to get things done 'yesterday', living in fear of the requester escalating it to their boss if they don't.
And we've become so paranoid about proving that remote-working-in-a-pandemic doesn't damage productivity that we're scared to ask for deadline extensions and say 'yes' to everything extra that lands on our kitchen-table-desk.
What Can We Do About These Triggers And The Three Pillars Of Burnout?
There's plenty we can do.
Some of it is surprisingly simple. Other actions will require a shift in company - or even industry - culture. But if ever there was a perfect time to do this, surely it's now?
I recently ran a masterclass on preventing burnout without pretending - what we can do about this as individuals and as organisations.
The feedback was so good that I'm running it again. So if you missed it last time, or you watched it, loved it, and want others in your organisation to see it, here's where to register to get the link:
And if you'd like to talk about how my Natural Resilience Method™ could transform things for your teams, in just a few weeks, please get in touch. Let's talk.
I'm looking to showcase organisations who are being innovative in preventing burnout, aligned with all three pillars. If you have any suggestions for who deserves a shout out, please let me know.