Burnout

Burnout has become a buzzword in many workplace conversations about mental health and wellness. But what is it really? And what contributes to this sense of overwhelm, overload and not being able to perform your work well?

Our demanding and fast paced work environments, high expectations we often place on ourselves coupled with the blurring of boundaries between our professional and personal lives means that burnout feels far more present.

Burnout: What It Is and Why It Matters

Burnout can be described as complete physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion. It often emerges from prolonged periods of excessive stress, especially in work or caregiving contexts. The term encompasses feelings of extreme fatigue, detachment from responsibilities, reduced professional productivity, and a deepening sense of cynicism or disengagement from work or life.

Dr Christina Maslach a member of the American Psychological Association identifies three core components of burnout:

  • Exhaustion: This is more than just feeling tired; it’s a profound depletion of physical and emotional energy.
  • De-personalisation: Characterised by an absence of empathy, feelings of cynicism, and a sense of disconnection.
  • Reduced Professional Efficacy: A diminishing belief in one’s effectiveness at work, where contributions seemingly have minimal impact.

In a recent Women’s Agenda Report, a startling 77% of women believed they have experienced burnout in the past 12 months, with the balancing act between career and home responsibilities being a leading factor. Their report found that 42% of women are concerned about burnout hindering their ambitions over the next two years and 41% say confidence in their abilities could get in the way.

When Women’s Agenda asked what factors have contributed to burnout;

 63% of respondent cited balancing home responsibilities with work

  • 50% listed working long hours
  • while 34% cited ‘having a difficult manager or boss’ as a reason. 

Burnout: Costs and Consequences

Imagine constantly running a marathon without a finish line in sight. That’s burnout. 

More than just the buzzword of the year, burnout has tangible, often dire, consequences on our lives, particularly as women often juggling multiple responsibilities.

Physical Toll

Burnout is more than mental overload; its effects manifest physically, causing distress to our bodies. From recurring headaches and digestive problems to a weakened immune system, burnout can make us more prone to catching colds and other infections. The consistent stress experienced during burnout can also elevate blood pressure and increase the risk of heart diseases. Over time, chronic burnout can lead to more severe health complications, making those annual health check-ups and listen-to-your-body moments crucial.

Mental and Emotional Strain

Beyond the fatigue and the overwhelming sensation of drowning under one’s responsibilities, burnout intensifies mental health issues. The emotional exhaustion can leave people feeling detached and increasingly cynical, often leading to feelings of anxiety which can spiral into depression. Emotional lows, mood swings, and a lingering sense of hopelessness can become daily companions, making even the smallest tasks seem Herculean.

Impacts on Daily Life

Burnout doesn’t just affect work life. Its ripples can be felt in personal relationships and social engagements. When burnout seeps in, simple joys like spending time with family, catching up with friends or indulging in hobbies can seem burdensome. Tasks once approached with enthusiasm now feel like insurmountable challenges. Life is far less vibrant, and may feel depressingly as though there is no way out. 

Professional Setbacks

In the workplace, burnout manifests as reduced efficiency, effectiveness and creativity. Projects and tasks that were once a breeze might start to feel like mountains to climb. The inability to concentrate, combined with a lack of motivation, can significantly impact performance, potentially affecting career progression and growth.

Tune into Kate and Fiona’s recent FB Live discussion about Burnout and Overwhelm here.

Burnout: Drivers and Contributing Factors

Navigating the realm of professional commitments while maintaining a sound work-life balance is pivotal, yet, this journey is riddled with obstacles and distractions.

Ambiguous Roles and Unclear Expectations

While most leaders and organisations believe they are being clear about roles and expectations, our experience of coaching hundreds of professional women has shown there’s often a lot of ambiguity and assumptions at play. Many organisations will talk about the challenges that come with the execution of strategy. The problem in most circumstances is not the strategy itself, it is a lack of clarity about who needs to do what, when, how and by when. When added to issues with project management, unclear lines of responsibilities and vague consequences for people who fail to deliver, it is hard to prioritise and deliver with certainty.

The Challenge of Remote Work

Hybrid work agreements and the increasing nature of remote working means it is much harder to observe and monitor workload capacity and address burnout effectively. The lack of face to face and personal interactions can intensify feelings of isolation, beliefs that the person not the workload is the problem and limit the level of support that team members would normally have access to during adhoc social encounters throughout the day. Behind a screen, it’s harder to see when someone is not coping, to appreciate their mental and emotional state and while leaders aim to be across what is happening for their team members, there’s no doubt this is harder without the regular office interactions. It is important for leaders to be very conscious of potential warning signs and to be proactive in addressing subtle cues that their staff are less engaged, are exhausted or are struggling to deliver to the quality and standard they have previously achieved.

The Absence of a Supportive Ecosystem

New data (from the Workforce Institute at UKG) suggests that for almost 70% of people, their manager has more impact on their mental health than their therapist or their doctor—and it’s equal to the impact of their partner.

Burnout is most often a cumulative experience that emerges over a number of incidences and experiences. It can start with little omissions, unclear expectations, disappointing execution or delivery. 

The entire ecosystem around each individual is influenced by a whole range of inputs. If the ecosystem feels unsupportive or threatening then individuals are less likely to thrive and be able to articulate and share their value (Act of Confidence #2). Deliberate focus on creating support structures, networks and friendships that enable people to weather the pressures and demands can act as a buffer that fosters well-being.

Tune into Kate and Fiona’s recent FB Live discussion about Burnout & Confidence: Roadblocks to Career Ambitions here.

How to Proactively Address Burnout – Individuals

Burnout doesn’t discriminate. Regardless of your role, seniority, or the industry you’re in, the overwhelming pressures can add up. 

“If you’re feeling overwhelmed, it’s important to be proactive about your emotional wellbeing, rather than hoping things will improve on their own” (The Black Dog Institute)

The good news? There are actionable steps you can take to ensure that burnout doesn’t get the best of you.

Seek Support

It’s easy to believe we should bear our burdens silently, especially in a corporate setting where showing vulnerability can sometimes be misconstrued as weakness. But the truth is, everyone needs a support system whether it’s seeking professional guidance through a coach or leaning on a colleague for a heart-to-heart chat. The act of sharing or asking for help (Act of Confidence #4) is therapeutic in and of itself. Remember, asking for help isn’t a sign of weakness; it’s a testament to your strength and self-awareness and in today’s business world is a capability often referred to as collaboration.

Set Boundaries

As ambitious women in the corporate world, it’s tempting to say ‘yes’ to every opportunity and wear multiple hats. But constantly blurring the lines between too many professional and personal responsibilities can be a fast track to exhaustion.

​​Setting and enforcing boundaries (Act of Confidence #6) is a pivotal strategy in mitigating the risks of burnout. It’s not merely a facet of efficient time management, but it’s also indicative of individuals, particularly women, reclaiming their professional and personal spaces. Establishing solid boundaries results in enhanced focus, optimised work-life balance, and a marked reduction in feeling overwhelmed.

 This proactive approach not only fosters personal well-being but also contributes to creating a healthier, more balanced working environment, proving instrumental in the ongoing battle against burnout.

Focus on Meaning and Purpose

Gaining clarity of what is most important to you and why is an essential aspect to wellbeing and high performance. In our Acts of Confidence program, the first module is Get Clear and Make Decisions, because this enables each individual to align their own values and priorities with the tasks and demands of the workplace.

Self-Care

This term gets thrown around a lot, but its importance can’t be overstated. Self-care isn’t just about spa days or weekend getaways. It’s about tuning into your needs—whether that’s a quiet evening with a book, journaling, or giving yourself time to pursue a hobby. Treating self-care as a priority rather than a luxury ensures that you’re consistently recharging and revitalising, allowing you to tackle challenges head-on with a refreshed spirit. It’s not selfish; it’s self-preservation As Ariana Huffington reminds us; “I relentlessly prioritise self-care because I know that taking care of myself makes it possible for me to show up as my best self in every way that matters.”

Download our guide: 30 Self-care Strategies.

Confidence: The Invisible Game-Changer

Building confidence is a crucial step in mitigating the risk of burnout: it goes beyond merely enhancing one’s self-perception. Women who radiate confidence instil trust, uplift their peers, and frequently emerge as the catalysts for innovation within their teams. They are more inclined to embrace challenges, bring forth fresh perspectives and ideas, as well as champion not only their causes but also those of their colleagues. By fostering an environment where confidence is nurtured, organisations can create a protective buffer against burnout, ensuring the wellbeing and productivity of their teams. This invisible game-changer, confidence, can therefore redefine professional landscapes and help in creating resilient, thriving work environments.

How to Proactive Address Burnout – For Organisations

Organisations have a duty of care to ensure they are focused on creating systems and structures that mean workplaces are spaced where individuals can stretch themselves, learn, thrive and collectively achieve great work. Organisations that focus on the following are far less likely to see burnout and overwhelm in their employees:

Foster Psychosocial Safety

We’ve recently done a deep dive on this topic, created a downloadable summary from some facilitated roundtable discussions with our network and shared a tonne of insights on what organisations can do in this realm. To access our Blog on Psychosocial Safety click here

When organisations make psychosocial safety a priority they create an ecosystem that is designed to prevent burnout. Set up clear processes, schedules and check-in points so that you are able to address the warning signs of burnout early.

Get Clear on Roles and Responsibilities

Creating clarity and certainty for each employee about their role, and the deliverables that are expected increases certainty, enables them to effectively assess their own performance (and required effort) and reduces the pain and difficulties that can occur from states of confusion. Having regular discussions to connect people with their ‘why’ or how their work fits into the broader purpose of the organisation and to prioritise activities and projects allows people to prioritise, ask for help and clarify what is expected in terms of performance.

Encourage and Reward Self Awareness

Support individuals in your organisation to enhance their self awareness, so that they are able to realistically assess their capacity, pay attention to their mental health, and have the skills to set and enforce boundaries and communicate when they need help.

The first step to addressing any situation is to acknowledge what’s really going on – be honest and get clear about the underlying drivers of the situation. We know that #AOC #1 Get Clear & Make Decisions, AOC #4 Ask for Help as well as AOC#6 Set and Enforce Boundaries are pivotal to dealing with burnout and overwhelm.

If you’re feeling the weight of burnout, or if you’re an organisation looking to better support its employees please reach out and talk to us via fiona@quantumimpact.com.au.

Are you a female leader looking to work with a coach to get clear about who you are, what you want and how to achieve it in a sustainable way? Book a 15-minute Confidence Breakthrough Call and let’s find out  if we are a good fit to work together.