If you’re a business owner like myself, then you’ll know that burnout is incredibly common. You’ll also know that it doesn’t last forever, is manageable and somewhat avoidable.
A lot of people associate burnout with being exhausted as a result of working long hours. While this can be true to an extent, ultimately I think this assumption is false.
Why? Well, in my opinion and experience, burnout is what happens when you’re working on something that doesn't align with your values and goals, and therefore, feels directionless and subsequently draining. It’s more about the meaning (or lack thereof) of what you’re doing, more so than the time going into it. Passion plays a huge role. If your work lacks passion and feels meaningless then burnout is likely to occur, regardless of how many hours you’re working.
In saying that, it’s important to clarify that breaks are certainly important, even when working on something that you’re passionate about. We’re not machines, we do require rest. There is just a difference between needing rest and being burnt out, and for me, the difference is passion and completing meaningful work.
What are the most common causes of burnout?
Everyone is different and will experience different triggers to their burnout. Most commonly, it occurs when employees are under immense pressure with unrealistic expectations. It can be a ‘no light at the end of the tunnel’ kind of feeling where it feels like you’re working to no logical end. The pressure of imminent deadlines, meeting tight budgets and expectation to work well beyond standard hours to no satisfying reward, can all result in burnout.
More specifically, in my own experience, burnout has been caused by working tirelessly on projects that don’t challenge me or help me grow in any way. The monotony of working on passionless projects became increasingly taxing and tiresome. Long hours may have been a reason, but working to no rewardable end was certainly a substantial factor.
Everyone will experience burnout differently, there’s no cookie-cutter trigger. So, it’s important to pay attention to how you’re feeling at work and about work. Burnout is avoidable but all too often it’s undetected until later.
How to cope with the feeling of burnout
I’ve found that the best way to manage burnout is to identify what’s caused it and then work on a plan to fix it. For example, if you’re feeling overwhelmed, overworked or undervalued then a transparent discussion with your manager or boss may be quite beneficial. Good business leaders want happy employees and they can’t fix what they don’t know about, so try having a calm and logical conversation where you outline the issues and work out a way forward.
If you are the boss and you’re experiencing burnout, then the process of identifying what the issue is still important. If you don’t have the option of escalating, then look to delegate. Sometimes, it’s difficult to trust others with things that need to be done right, but if you trust your team to do a good job (and you should), then see who has capacity to help you out and lean on them for support. They’re your team for a reason.
If you’re looking for a more immediate fix, then try taking a few deep breaths and realign on what it is that you’re actually trying to achieve. Tasks can add up quickly and feel very overwhelming. You can reduce the pressure on yourself by breaking each task into smaller, more achievable items, taking a deep breath and working out an actionable plan for progress. In many cases, this may mean asking for help - don’t shy away from that. In my time as a business leader, I’ve learned that no one can do it all and you’re no exception!
How to recognise symptoms of burnout
An important part of understanding burnout is being able to identify it before it happens. Again, everyone is different but there are some tell-tale signs to be weary of; lack of motivation, irritability, trouble concentrating, loss of productivity and missing deadlines. It’s good to be aware of the symptoms so you can identify them in either yourself, a colleague or employee.
For me, burnout is typically characterised by unreasonable frustration and a lack of care or investment in the work I’m doing. Now when this happens, I know it’s a sign to take a step back, realign my focus and attack the task from another angle. Everyone has tasks in their job they dislike, it doesn’t mean you’re in a bad job. Sometimes we just need a minute to realign and try doing it another way. Perspective is everything. Stay in tune with yourself and make changes as necessary.
Burnout can be a frightening experience but once understood, it’s entirely manageable, particularly if you remember that you’re always in control. Taking small steps can be incredibly impactful and completely change your perspective of how difficult your job or a certain task is. Remember; take a breath, realign your focus and lean on your team for support - you’ve got this.