This post was first published on The Hybrid Hacker.
Leadership and management roles can be incredibly fulfilling; however, they also present significant challenges. As a leader, you bear the responsibility of guiding and motivating your team, making tough decisions, and managing the pressures of the job. Over time, these responsibilities can take a toll on your mental and physical health, potentially leading to burnout.
Furthermore, leaders and managers are not only more susceptible to stress and burnout themselves but also hold responsibility for the well-being of their team members. It is crucial for leaders to recognize burnout symptoms and act swiftly before they escalate into larger issues.
In this essay, we will delve deeper into burnout, examining its causes, symptoms, and potential management strategies. By understanding burnout and its consequences, leaders and managers can not only better prevent its onset but also take appropriate action when it occurs.
Although burnout isn't categorized as a medical condition, it was acknowledged by the World Health Organization (WHO) in 2019 as an "occupational phenomenon", which essentially signifies a syndrome.
Here is the WHO's definition:
“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
• feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
• increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism cynicism related to one's job;
• reduced professional efficacy.
Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
Over the years, burnout has been the subject of extensive studies, and researchers have also developed surveys to assess its prevalence. The Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI), formulated by Christina Maslach and Susan Jackson in the 1980s, is perhaps the most well-known of these tools.
The MBI is a validated measure of burnout that examines three dimensions:
In today's fast-paced work environments, burnout has become an increasingly common issue. Burnout can occur when individuals are subjected to prolonged stress or frustration, often a result of various factors that make the demands of their role overwhelming. Here are some common causes:
The Job Demands-Resources (JD-R) model, established by Arnold Bakker and Evangelia Demerouti, offers a more theoretical approach to better understand when burnout can start to proliferate. This model suggests that burnout arises from an imbalance between the demands of a role and the resources available to cope with these demands.
Job demands refer to the physical, psychological, social, or organizational aspects of a role that require consistent physical or mental effort, including factors such as workload, time pressure, and emotional demands. Conversely, job resources are aspects of a role that aid in achieving work goals, alleviate job demands, or stimulate personal growth and development. Examples include autonomy, social support, and constructive feedback.
The JD-R model proposes that having sufficient job resources can mitigate the negative effects of high job demands. In other words, when resources are adequate, they can help manage the stress associated with demanding work and thus help prevent burnout..
It's essential to recognize the signs and symptoms of burnout to take action before they escalate in something more difficult to solve.
Some common signs of burnout can include:
Having experienced burnout firsthand, in my opinion it can be brought back to apathy. You just feel helpless, lazy and you tend to procrastinate.
Burnout can have a significant impact on your productivity and performance. It can lead to decreased job satisfaction, reduced creativity, and poor decision-making. While as we mentioned burnout is not classified as a disease, it can potentially impact your physical health, leading to high blood pressure, weakened immune system, and other health problems. If left unaddressed, burnout can ultimately lead to depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues.
Years ago, when I first started my job as a manager, I was working long hours, handling a high workload, and struggling to balance my work and personal life. I began to notice that I was feeling exhausted, irritable, and unmotivated. As previously mentioned, I was also experiencing apathy and started to procrastinate.
The first thing that helped me was taking a break and conducting a deep self-assessment. This allowed me to recognize that I was experiencing burnout and decide to take action. I took some time off work, engaged in self-care activities, and connected with a mentor who helped me reevaluate my priorities and workload. Through this process, I realized that I needed to delegate more tasks to others on my team and establish clearer boundaries between work and personal life.
After implementing these changes, I noticed a significant improvement in my well-being and job performance. I became more focused, productive, and engaged in my work, and I felt more fulfilled in my personal life. This experience not only taught me to recognize burnout but also inspired me to find strategies to prevent this unpleasant situation.
Inspired by the 3/3/3 method for structuring the day by Oliver Burkeman, I developed what I call the 3-3-3 Anti-Burnout Rule. The 3-3-3 stands for:
The idea is to take at least 3 hours to rest, reflect, and self-assess every week, 3 days every month, and at least 3 weeks every year.
You don't have to follow this strictly (in fact, I would suggest resting more than what the 3-3-3 rule suggests), but it's a useful framework to assess your work-life balance and understand if you're taking enough time for yourself or not. Every week, month, and year, I conduct a personal assessment and ask myself:
"Did I take enough time for myself to rest?"
For me it works quite well.
There are several other strategies that you can use to prevent burnout, including:
Despite utilizing strategies to prevent burnout, it's not always possible to entirely evade this condition. Moreover, even if you are disciplined enough to ward off personal burnout, you may still have to address burnout among your team members. So, what steps should you take in the face of burnout?
The first and most critical step is recognition, as previously discussed. If it's happening to you, self-identification might be relatively straightforward; however, if it's occurring to one of your team members, it may not be as apparent. The primary advice here is to approach the situation with objectivity, empathy, and understanding.
Following recognition, there are several steps you can take:
In summary, burnout presents a significant challenge in today's fast-paced work environments and should be a concern for everyone, not just leaders. Its impact on both personal and professional aspects of our lives highlights the need for awareness of its causes, symptoms, and preventative and remedial measures.
Throughout this essay, we have examined various aspects of burnout, including its definition, common triggers, indicators, and the detrimental effects it can have on productivity and health. Additionally, we went through some practical tips to prevent burnout, such as implementing the 3-3-3 Anti Burnout Rule, setting boundaries, prioritizing self-care, practicing mindfulness, and seeking support when necessary. Furthermore, based on my experience, we have explored actionable steps to overcome burnout, including taking necessary breaks, reassessing priorities, and finding new sources of motivation.
In conclusion, it is essential to manage burnout proactively by gaining knowledge and implementing effective coping strategies. Prioritizing your well-being, as well as that of your team, is not a luxury but a necessity that leads to greater resilience, productivity, and overall life balance.
For further reading on burnout and self-care for leaders, consider the following resources: