Leading through and beyond burnout
You’re sitting in the car park at work with a splitting headache and with that sinking feeling of here we go again. The 3 coffees you’ve downed already to give you a bit of an energetic lift haven’t helped; in fact, you feel more than a little shaky. Your phone has lit up like a Christmas tree with fires you’re expected to put out, yet all you want to do is book a room at the nearest hotel, close the blinds and sleep for days.
It’s not pretty, and sadly it’s not uncommon. And while I’m no doctor, I’ve come out the other side, and so can you.
My experience of burnout showed up after a corporate takeover. Overnight my job role changed, and the leadership style was at odds with how I work best. I found myself doing work that did not allow me to work to my strengths and my job performance plummeted.
My confidence was knocked for six, my brain was foggy and I found myself bursting into tears for the most trivial annoyances. But worst of all was the long list of unexplained medical symptoms.
So, what is burnout?
Here’s a definition by the Mayo Clinic that I think sums it up well.
“It’s a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”
But it’s this list of personality traits of people who more commonly experience burnout that captured my attention.
- A tendency towards perfectionism or a type-A personality
- Being hyper-competitive or comparing oneself to others
- Difficulty asking for help or support
- Inability to prioritize work tasks and adjust effort accordingly
- Identifying one’s job as the most important part of who you are
Over the last 10 years working with dedicated, hardworking mid career women, I’ve met many women who have found themselves deep within the dark tunnel of burnout. And many of these women have displayed one or more of these characteristics. Interesting!
If you have been wondering if you’re teetering on the edge of burnout – you know you should do something about it.
A week off work curled up on the couch watching Netflix or escaping to a beautiful beach in the sunshine may seem like the perfect quick fix … but sadly it’s unlikely to do the trick. You don’t reach a place of burnout overnight – so it’s fair to say you’ll need more than a band aid solution to get you back to feeling fresh and alive and loving your work.
So, what does work?
Here are my top 3 pieces of advice for anyone noticing symptoms of burnout.
1. Take a breath.
Let’s start by acknowledging where you are at. Notice how you are feeling and how it’s impacting you, your work and your personal life.
Is it time to draw a line in the sand and commit to creating change and putting you and your health first for a while?
You already know that self-care is key to moving beyond burnout… so let’s make sure you are making time for sleep, exercise, mindfulness, fun or whatever it is that helps you to feel calm, centered and more like you.
2. Prioritise like a pro.
The next step is to do a stock take on all the things on your plate right now… and I mean all of it. Not just the work stuff – but the home stuff too.
Despite what some people might think – not everything is urgent. Spend time getting really clear on what things are most important. Be ruthless. I mean really ruthless!
To help clarify your highest priorities, ask yourself; “If I could only focus on THREE things on this list – what would they be?”
It’s time to lighten your load and let some things go. Let go of doing it all. Especially let go of doing it all without help and support. Let go of striving for perfection.
What you need more than anything else right now is space to think, breathe and rejuvenate.
3. Commit to change.
If you keep doing the same things, you will keep getting the same result!
But given you’ve read this far… you’re ready to reignite your spark and reclaim your work mojo. And for that – things will need to change. Let’s start by setting clear boundaries, saying no and delegating.
Recognise where you are over functioning – and allowing others to under function. For example, are you doing your team members’ work because it’s easier and quicker to just do it yourself? Or have you failed to recognise that your kids are now old enough to make their own lunch, fold the laundry or cook dinner for the family once in a while?
Or perhaps the change you need comes in the form of a new job? If your growth has plateaued, or you’ve fallen out of love with our role or you’re uninspired by your leader – then hoping and waiting for things to get better is rarely the answer.
Intuitively we know when we are heading towards burnout – but we often stick our head in the sand – too busy or too exhausted to do anything about it until it’s too late.
The solution to my burnout was to eventually quit – without another job to go to. But that’s because I left it too long before finding ways to stop it in its tracks. Take it from me – you don’t want to do this!
If you have battled fatigue and poor motivation, coupled with a bunch of unexplained illnesses – then now is the time to act, put yourself first and start looking for ways to find the best version of you again.
One option might be to join our 8-week group coaching program IGNITE. It’s designed to provide accountability and support to do this work. You can check out the details here.