From Burnout to Vitality: It’s More than Just Work-Life Balance
Step back and consider your last month of work, do any of these thoughts sound familiar?
“I have lost my motivation, my ambition… “
“I can’t seem to focus…”
“I seem to be making small mistakes with things I know how to do… “
“I have less patience with others than I used to have…”
“I’m exhausted and feel tired all the time…”
“I can’t sleep well at night…”
If so, you may be experiencing burnout.
Burnout is more than just physical exhaustion. As defined by the World Health Organization, burnout is a syndrome characterized by three elements: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy. This means that burnout affects more than our physical state; it impacts our cognitive functioning, mental health, and emotional well-being too. And it can have serious effects on our overall productivity and sense of well-being.
No doubt about it: burnout is costly on multiple levels. According to Karlyn Borysenko, in the US alone, burnout is linked to $125 – $190 billion in health care costs, which is an estimated 8% of our national spending on healthcare, and contributes to 25-50% of employee turnover. It is also clear that burnout is NOT just a work-life balance issue, it is a workplace issue with implications for leaders, teams, and organizations.
As an executive leadership coach for more than 15 years, I have seen a huge increase in the percentage of my clients who are experiencing burnout, and associated mental health issues, as they try to cope with all of the changes and stresses of the past 18 months. This has definitely become a core issue for many leaders, and the teams and organizations they lead.
So what can we do to create work environments that minimize burnout and enable everyone to thrive? While the answers are multifaceted and depend on many different factors, we can start to address the issue of burnout at three different levels: the individual level, the team level, and the broader organizational level.
Here are a few best practices for each level that research has shown can help:
Finding ways to shift your mind, body, or emotion can be helpful in managing ongoing stress and burnout. Here are some strategies to consider:
- Name it to Claim It – Acknowledging burnout and its impacts are a powerful first step. Nothing can change unless it is first brought into self-awareness along with a motivation to make a change.
- Differentiate between your Circle of Concern vs Circle of Control. Taken from Covey’s notion, learning to step back and recognize what is (and is not) in your control, can enable you to shift your energy in ways that matter and have the possibility of moving you toward more of what you do want versus keeping you in a cycle of victimhood or resentment that often leads to resignation and burnout.
- Create Boundaries – Learning to make requests for what you need and saying “no” whenever it makes sense can also create a sense of control around your day that might give you additional space to breathe and recharge.
- Find Small Ways to Practice Self-Care – Finding places to stop and breathe, creating a regular mindfulness practice, or finding ways to get up and move, get outside, get an extra bit of sleep when you can, eat a healthy meal, etc, can go a long way toward easing burnout. Granted, it can be hard to find the time for these activities; giving yourself permission is often the biggest obstacle to getting started. Start small by envisioning your healthier way of being and selecting one or two practices that will get you there.
- Reflect and Connect – Reconnecting to your core values and your deeper purpose, reaching out to others, and taking time to build human connections can help you to cope with stress and provide a safety valve when you need it most.
Teams can play a critical role helping to create a more sustainable work environment. Here are some additional strategies that are known to help mitigate burnout:
- Establish Psychological Safety & Trust – As a leader, taking time to listen and connect with each team member and being vulnerable as a leader are critical elements that create high performing and highly engaged teams. Both elements generate psychological safety. Being proactive in listening for signs of burnout is also important.
- Create Norms and Boundaries that Support Better Balance – Seeking input from team members on ways to create new norms and boundaries can help them feel that they are an important part of the work ethos. Focusing on outcomes vs. time spent online will help team members connect to the value in their work beyond being merely visible, whether online or in-person
- Find Humor / Offer Hope- Balancing hope with reality is a polarity that must be navigated in our constantly changing environment; team members often look to leaders for words of hope and future possibility. At the same time, they need transparency and honesty. Delivering a blend of both is essential – and not always easy. Tapping into humor, in the right way and at the right time, can help keep life in perspective, and also be valuable in shining a different light on a difficult and challenging period.
At the highest levels, organizations must provide systemic policies and practices to create a culture that embraces sustainable work-life balance. Areas to focus on include:
- Walk the Talk – Establishing and committing to a culture of psychological safety and trust and setting flexible work policies that are communicated and role modeled from the senior leadership down is key.
- Encourage Role Clarity & Prioritize Work– Continuing to find ways to encourage both role clarity and prioritization of work create and foster an environment of trust and accountability, which are essential to sustainable work practices and will help reduce work overload which can create burnout.
- Acknowledge & Support Transitions (Ending, Neutral Zone, New Beginning – As changes happen, giving people time to adjust to the changes that are happening, whenever possible, will acknowledge that change is hard and transition takes time.
- Keep Open Lines of Communication with Ongoing Feedback Loops – As the dynamics of remote work continue to evolve, encouraging engagement through open communication and an ongoing commitment to continuous improvement are essential.
At the end of the day, we are each responsible for ensuring we take care of our health and well-being. However, with the support of our team and our organization, we can magnify the opportunity to create more humane and sustainable environments and work together to create cultures where work-life balance is achievable and embraced.