In a recent coaching conversation, a client shared with me an interesting and simple practice she uses to cope with her burnout. It incorporates the following three-fold concept:
- A mini habit: doing something rejuvenating for 10’ or 15’ a day
- A mezzo habit: doing something rejuvenating for two or three hours a week
- A macro habit: doing something rejuvenating for one day a month
Since she implemented this practice, she has felt more rested and grounded.
During our conversation about her state of burnout, she talked about the amount of pressure she has felt in the last few years. Without doubt, she is an over-achiever seeking perfection – whether it’s related to delivering great results or taking good care of her team. But as a young woman of color leading a large group in a predominantly white male environment, she has also felt the pressure of being under scrutiny – carrying both the pride, the responsibility, and the burden of being the only one. The upheaval of the pandemic’s last three years, a lack of resources to do the work, a lack of recognition of the lack of resources to do the work, and her urge to keep the same level of excellence has greatly depleted her.
A few weeks ago, her company was bought by a much bigger organization. To her surprise, the new CEO called her to introduce himself and to connect. It was a clear and flattering signal of her value to him, and perhaps her important role in the future of the organization. It could have been an exciting moment of personal reward, but instead, she felt only confusion, and didn’t even mention the call to anyone.
Although she considers herself a Servant Leader and would be excited to contribute to a new venture, she internalized the call as another level of pressure to prove herself once again, to not disappoint the new CEO, to not disappoint the old one and to not disappoint her team… It’s exhausting. Enough!
In 2019 the World Health Organization included burnout in its International Classification of Diseases, describing it as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. (Beyond Burn Out)
There is plenty of research, books, articles, and podcasts about burnout. I invite you to read some and share the content with your co-workers. It’s been a theme present in literature for more than 40 years, but the phenomenon has intensified with the Covid years and the social reckoning that is presently occurring – most likely backed up by 40 years of an obsession with rentability, productivity, and efficiency. Covid and the system itself are testing our limits to the max.
Burnout can present as a combination of three distinct symptoms:
- exhaustion (a depletion of mental or physical resources)
- cynical detachment (a depletion of social connectedness)
- a reduced sense of efficacy (a depletion of value for oneself).
Each of these three factors are important to understand. Every burnout is different and can be the springboard of a renewed self. That’s what happened to me in my 20’s, after years of acute futility crisis and a burnout at 25. I don’t have (yet) a list of bullet points ideas about how to cope with burnout or prevent it, but you can find plenty online. Know that AGENCY is restorative!
Instead, to uplift us, I will share my naive vision:
I see the pandemic of burnout and its companion, the great resignation, as a chance for organizations to finally change their beat – radically change the way we work – be deliberate in fostering intelligent cultures, generous in distributing leadership and resources (including compensations) at all levels and be seriously in tune with social and environmental issues. There could be a lot of people from marginalized groups having access to more positions of authority and power with less pressure. There could be less heroic and ego-leadership styles (too tiring), and more co-ownership and group thinking forums (stimulating, fun and ultimately more efficient). More coaching and mentoring. More focus and autonomy. More mastery and purpose. This new way of BEING would leave us with energy, space, and time to take care of our children, friends, families, neighbors, hobbies, noble causes, body, mind, and spirit – at least two days a week. A virtuous cycle could take place. More Space, more Flow, and less Tyranny of Time. No more Sunday-Night Syndrome or Monday-Morning Blues or Friday-night Hysteria…
As burnout begins to be addressed, we can start to recharge our imaginations.