The BBC recently released an article titled ‘Burnout: “Sick and tired of feeling sick and tired”’ (link below). It tells the story of Amber Coster, a business-woman in her twenties who was holding down a senior position in a tech start-up. She was ‘successful,’ earning well and travelling the world.
‘On paper, my life looked incredible.’
However, she was ignoring signs that she was not well. For no apparent reason, she developed a range of physical ailment- rashes, migraines, and stomach pains. She also experienced emotional turmoil, forgetfulness and exhaustion. She had no idea what was wrong. She thought she was going ‘crazy.’
Amber was actually experiencing ‘burnout,’ a mental exhaustion that occurs due to unmanaged stress in the workplace. The World Health Organisation defines it as a mental/physical state ‘resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’ characterised by ‘feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion,’ ‘increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job,’ and ‘reduced professional efficacy.’
To put it simply, Amber had been working too hard. Early starts, late nights, glued to her phone. She never switched off, and eventually couldn’t if she tried.
Her company ethos ‘spoke about greatness a lot,’ 'lion culture,' ‘being strong,’ ‘brave’ and ‘exceptional,’ but they did not discuss wellbeing or resilience. Being ‘brave’ and ‘exceptional’ can only come from putting your health above your work. You cannot perform at your best when you are overworked, overtired, or suffering in silence.
(Find the full article here: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-50604035)
The best way to prevent burnout is to find a work-life balance- prioritise and demand it!
The Mental Health Foundation suggests taking the following steps to help find a work-life balance:
Take personal responsibility for your work-life balance. This includes speaking up when work expectations and demands are too much. Employers need to be aware of where the pressures lie in order to address them.
Try to 'work smart, not long'. This involves tight prioritisation - allowing yourself a certain amount of time per task - and trying not to get caught up in less productive activities.
Take proper breaks at work, for example by taking at least half an hour for lunch and getting out of the workplace if you can.
Try to ensure that a line is drawn between work and leisure. If you do need to bring work home try to ensure that you only work in a certain area of your home - and can close the door on it.
Take seriously the link between work-related stress and mental ill health. Try to reduce stress, for example through exercise, relaxation or hobbies.
Recognise the importance of protective factors, including exercise, leisure activities and friendships. Try to ensure that these are not sacrificed to working longer hours, or try to ensure that you spend your spare time on these things.
Watch out for the cumulative effect of working long hours by keeping track of your working hours over a period of weeks or months rather than days. If possible, assess your work-life balance with your colleagues and with the support and involvement of managerial staff. The more visible the process, the more likely it is to have an effect.
Burnout highlights the importance of managing mental wellbeing in the workplace. Stress can (and will) make you ill. The health of mind and body are undeniably connected. We all need to look out for the signs of burnout in our colleagues, employers, employees, and most importantly, in ourselves. Little things can make a huge difference- turn off your phone, go to sleep early, reduce caffeine intake...But importantly, if symptoms persist, talk to a professional.
Practise switching off. Let’s find the reset button and focus on wellbeing.