3 Sleeves of Oreos (and 5 Easy Strategies to Manage Burnout Proactively)
I’ve hit a wall twice in my life. I was at an utter deficit when it happened. When I say “hit a wall,” I mean I crashed and burned. Hard.
The first time it happened, the crash lingered about three months. Being the overachieving perfectionist that I am, I got my act together, did what I needed to do, pulled my big girl panties up and soldiered on.
Two years later, however, I crashed again. This time, I hit the wall so hard, I was down and out for about six months.
Picture this: My biggest decision each day was whether or not I put on clean pajamas.
But I wasn’t alone. Nearly 90% of professionals say they suffer from burnout, a recent Korn Ferry survey counts, with more than one-third saying they’re burned out to a great extent. (Think: pajamas.) The Harvard Business Review, in a separate survey, tallied 89% of respondents who reported their work life was getting worse.
So how do we proactively stop ourselves, and our employees, from burnout? While the obvious answer may be, “don’t work so much,” here’s some less obvious lessons I teach my clients on how to combat burnout before you smack face-first into a brick wall.
Decompress at home. And I don’t mean sweep your office and organize files. I mean do anything that is not work. Take a walk. Listen to music. Drink a glass of wine. Have sex. Whatever gets you to switch gears. For some people, especially if you’ve had a high-intensity day, you might want to burn off that kind of energy with something physical, like a bike ride or swimming. For others, you may want to do literally nothing. One of my clients enjoys driving from the office to home in silence. Another dons a jingle skirt when they get home, wiggling and dancing through the house, providing giggles for their kiddos in the kitchen while prepping dinner for the night. Just avoid zoning out to escape. The key is to be present in whatever recharging and nurturing activity you’re doing so you have the energy to step back into work the next day.
Decompress at work. When you get up to pee, grab a drink of water or pour a cup of coffee, try what I call “door jam breath.” It’s quite simple. Every time you go through a door jam, take a big breath, let it out (even make a sound with it, if it’s appropriate in the environment you’re in) and audibly and consciously put yourself into the present moment. Roll your shoulders, if you want to. My office is in my house. In the walk from my office to my kitchen, where I refill my water or tea, I pass three doorways. On the way back, I pass those same doorways. In that short break, I’ve literally taken six full deep breaths, slowed down, paused for a bit and recentered.
Stop normalizing burnout. This has got to be the No. 1 mistake employers make. High-productivity is mistakenly valued over everything. I frequently see clients work an average of 10 hours a week beyond the expected 40. Working on weekends and during vacations can become an unspoken rule. This creates a workplace culture that is toxic and passed on from leadership to employees. But, if we normalize expectations (ALERT: not everyone works at the same pace) and rethink our workflows (is this sales number a realistic expectation for 1 hour of work?), we can nip this in the bud.
Set boundaries. This can be as simple as saying “no.” Let’s say you’ve got more than a day’s worth of work in front of you when your boss walks into your office asking, “Hey, can you do this for me?” Your automatic response is, “No problem,” when internally the response is much simpler: “No.” You haven’t taken a lunch in a year, you’ve had to pee since early this morning and you have piles stacking up on your desk. Not to mention, you’re still tired from your “weekend” answering emails. We cross our own boundaries when we are not being true to the actual workload, when we work on “off” time, and when we say “yes,” when we really need to be saying “no.”
Limit technology use. Everything feels urgent in a digital world where you’re connected to a device that dings every 5 minutes. The amount of tech we need to track in a day contributes to burnout. BIG TIME. We need to educate our teams on what a reasonable turnaround time is for email, texts and instant messaging apps (i.e. Slack) and build it into our culture. You have control over how people can reach you and when people reach you. I ask all my private clients, for example, to use Voxer. Most of my organizational clients use Microsoft Teams. I do not respond to emails on the weekend. During the pandemic, Zoom swooped in, like a workplace superhero. In a post-pandemic world, however, where “Zoom fatigue” goes as far as affecting the neurological pathways modulating alertness versus fatigue, we may need to decide which habits we took on during the pandemic are effective and which are not. What do we need to change and address and let go of? Consider ways to reduce the bombardment of information.
Here’s the main takeaway: Your people will make or break your business, and you are one of your people. If you or anyone on your team suffers from burnout, the business and those in and around it suffer.
Now I’m not saying all of the above is fixable overnight. We’re always a work in progress. Hell, I was heating my tea in the kitchen the other day, fuming over the fact I had to stand in front of the microwave for an entire 1 minute and 10 seconds, just days after explaining what “door jam breaths” are. We’re all human.
Take it from me, the ex-perfectionist. I may still be that self-defined overachiever who suffered massive burnout for six-plus-months, but I’m also something else. I’m no longer driven by crises; I’m driven by resilience. So, be proactive. Help your leaders, talent and teams turn their stress into success.