How to Keep the Corporate Flame Alive: Addressing Burnout in the Workplace
“So, I’m Gonna Need You to Come in on Saturdayyyy…”
Bill Lumbergh is a fictional character, but we all know a Lumbergh or have a loved one who knows a Lumbergh. The pesky boss from Office Space became a culturally relevant symbol of what NOT to strive for when being a leader. His character resonated with so many because it was (unfortunately) so relatable.
Lumbergh, the micromanager and over-demanding and insensitive boss, often overshadows a much more “real” problem featured in Office Space. Burnout is a workplace phenomenon garnering more attention as it seems to be impacting an increased number of employees. In recent years, burnout reached an unprecedented tipping point and continues to garner attention in the media and in the workplace.
Why Is This Being Talked About (and Experienced) So Much Now?
A recent study determined that “Burnout is on the rise, particularly among key groups.” It could be argued that the pandemic caused a significant rise in burnout and an uptick in the number of conversations surrounding the issue. For some, it was the transition to the remote workplace without clearly defined boundaries and resources. Without the physical barriers of an office, there wasn’t a clear signal to start winding down for the day. A good manager would encourage employees to sign off outside of work hours unless absolutely necessary; however, not all leadership is created equal. Some employees and leaders have difficulty seeing what genuinely “needs to be done” and what really could have waited until the next day.
Let’s be clear about one thing, though – burnout started long before the pandemic, even if people weren’t talking about it as much. Burnout was first coined as a technical term in the 1970s. Herbert Freudenberger popularized the term describing burnout as “becoming exhausted by making excessive demands on energy, strength, or resources” and identified certain personality factors that may predispose people to suffer from burnout, such as “the dedicated and committed” employees in a working environment.
What Are Some Contributing Factors to Burnout?
I am one of the “lucky ones” who works at an organization that is mindful of workload balance. Our CEO, Pinaki Kathiari, regularly reminds us to let someone on our leadership team know if they feel like they have too much on their plates. He often encourages our staff to “raise your hand if you feel overwhelmed” because “no one should feel alone here.” Local Wisdom is a people-first company (we recently wrote a whole blog post on this topic) that seeks to connect emotionally with its employees (you can read about that in a separate blog post here).
Hustle culture is partially to blame for this. I’m sure we’ve all been involved in conversations or scenarios like the ones below at some point or another:
- Glamorizing long work hours
- Penalizing those who are not always available around the clock (weekends and holidays, too!)
- Reinforcing and rewarding unrealistic and unattainable goals
- Reluctance to provide adequate support to those who need it
- Reliance on “perks and gifts” instead of resources to help employees to do their jobs
It is much more effective to have a workplace where realistic expectations, evenly distributed workloads, and proactive planning are the norm, but those things are easier said than done. Sometimes implementing a new tool or process can help lighten the load, but in all honesty, avoiding burnout requires everyone being on the same page. (Speaking of tools, here’s a quick, shameless plug: Local Wisdom has a sister company, Resource Hero, that can help with resource management and time tracking if your company is in need.)
Social norms can also get in the way here. It’s totally acceptable in our culture to swallow stress and adhere to potentially harmful workplace behaviors. When we suppress or ignore our stress, it compounds and grows with time.
What Does Burnout Feel Like?
Sometimes burnout feels like nothing at all, where you’re languishing, and you truly don’t feel… anything… anymore. Other times, it can make you feel hopeless and like there is no end in sight to the pile of work staring back at you. Burnout can also manifest itself as rage or feeling super destructive – more like wanting to metaphorically “burn” the place down. The key is recognizing signs of burnout before they start growing and compiling to head off the problem before it roots itself or spreads.
There are several components and symptoms of burnout, but a few that studies have outlined below are:
- Emotional exhaustion – the fatigue that comes from caring too much for too long
- Depersonalization – the depletion of empathy, caring, and compassion
- Decreased sense of accomplishment – an unconquerable sense of futility; feeling like nothing you do makes a difference
Since I am not a doctor and do not want to provide incorrect medical advice, please reference this helpful article by Mayo Clinic Staff to read more on burnout symptoms and warning signs.
So how do you address burnout before it becomes too widespread? First, take a mental step back from the chaos – especially any arsonist types of burnouts (!!!) – and see below for some helpful tips.
Tips To Avoid the Burnout Bonfire:
Below are a few ways to decrease your chances of experiencing burnout. They may not all work for your lifestyle or occupation, but see what resonates with you. There might be something you could implement into your routine right now!
- Set boundaries. This applies to setting boundaries between yourself and your employer. (To be clear, this does not mean quiet quitting.) You know when you’re hitting your max work volume capacity and communicate this before you are too taxed.
- Schedule breaks – studies show that wall-to-wall meetings do not allow your brain to “reset,” which increases stress and decreases your ability to focus and engage. It also makes you less effective as an employee because your brain never has time to digest and problem-solve issues from the prior meeting. Make sure to block off small breaks (at least five minutes, but 30 minutes is ideal) whenever possible.
- Sent a “done for the day” reminder – We got this idea from a LinkedIn post by author Greg McKeown. This will inherently remind you to be critical of your endless to-do list. This should be implemented on a managerial level; however, if your managers are not going to introduce or enforce it, set your own “done for the day” reminder.
- Be Stingy with Your Time: Be honest about your limitations and realistic about your commitments. It is great to be a team player but be careful when that teeters into “people-pleasing” territory.
- When you see warning signs, pay attention to them. It’s natural to want to be able to do it all yourself, but when you start to see signs of burnout, make a change. Let your manager know how you’re feeling to see what workload adjustments can be made. Start to delegate and get help before it becomes an untenable situation.
- Maintain your identity and personality. Having a sense of self and cultivating hobbies outside of work is essential. We’ve been trained to prioritize our job, and the lines get blurred when your only “hobby” or “interest” is that job.
- Make healthy choices outside of the office. Prioritize winding down early so that you get good rest and take your PTO to allow your mind and body to recharge.
- Burn… calories instead of burning out. Exercise is the best line of defense against stress. Moving your body is crucial in releasing stress. (Yes, we begrudgingly admit this, but it’s true.)
- Be aware of the balance. We hear a lot about work-life balance, but what does that really mean? When you’re working late once and a while, that’s just the nature of being a team player and may come with the job; however, if you’re working late and on weekends consistently, then it’s time to speak up.
- Shed any guilt of any of the above. It can be challenging to ask for help, and sometimes you may feel bad for either vocalizing your concerns or limitations. However, speaking up sooner rather than later will make you a better employee for the company in the long run.
The Lumberghs in your life won’t encourage you to be mindful of your mental health, but we sure will. Which leads us to our next point: social connection is essential to combatting burnout. On that note, I’ll leave you with a beautiful quote from Amelia Nagoski, co-author of the book “Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Cycle.”