Why self-care fails to deal with burnout

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Are you addressing the symptoms or the causes of burnout?

Is your team feeling exhausted and overwhelmed when it comes to your work? Even before the global pandemic, the World Health Organization had declared burnout an occupational phenomenon in response to the growing number of workers around the work who were reporting that they were feeling energetically depleted, negative, or cynical about their work and had less professional efficacy. Fast forward through the many workplace challenges of navigating the global pandemic, and it’s not surprising that workplaces are reporting increasing levels of burnout.

“Generally, people are equipped to handle a lot of the stressors that crop up in life and at work, but when workplace stress is chronic in nature, burnout can start to take hold,” explained Paula Davis, from The Stress and Resilience Institute when I interviewed her recently. “Tell-tale signs of burnout include physical and emotional exhaustion, chronic cynicism, and a sense of inefficacy.”

Unfortunately, Paula’s research has found that too often we apply the wrong strategies to alleviate burnout. For example. we put too much focus on treating the symptoms like exhaustion, and how we can “rest” our way out of burnout, rather than addressing the causes of burnout which include:

  • Not having enough autonomy at work
  • Not feeling like you have either team or leader support
  • Not feeling recognized in the workplace
  • Not having opportunities to contribute
  • Unfairness in the workplace.

“When we understand the causes of burnout it becomes clear that a systems approach is needed to address these challenges,” explained Paula. “But where is the best place to start? Our research has found that teams play a vital role in deploying the holistic strategies and frameworks has shown to prevent burnout at work.”

How? Paula suggested that teams that are resilient and thriving have this constellation of traits (with the acronym PRIMED):

  • P — Psychological Safety — Teams need to be able to trust each other.
  • R — Relationships — Having someone to turn to when you need support.
  • I — Impact –People have a sense of impact and meaning in their work.
  • M — Mental Strength — Staying flexible when facing challenges.
  • E — Energy — Teams have a positive energy.
  • D — Design –Able to think differently around what works and what needs to be done.

What can you try to help your team nurture these traits? Paula recommended:

  • Talking about your purpose or common goal — Have all team members share their perspectives on what their purpose or common goal is. Particularly when teams are geographically diverse, and throughout the pandemic where many people may be working remotely, these conversations can have immense power. Try taking 10 minutes here and there in certain meetings and remind everybody they are working so hard to get these ideas and projects together. Ask, what is your common goal? What is your common purpose? Why is this important for each of you?
  • Celebrating your wins and successes — Finding ways to celebrate micro wins and successes in your team and regularly acknowledging and thanking people, helps to fuel their confidence, motivation, and resilience. Rarely do people complain of being ‘’over thanked’’ at work, so paying more attention, and consciously cultivating smaller, more regular moments of recognition can add up to something big.
  • Considering your available resources to get the balance right — Think about burnout as having ‘’too many demands and not enough resources’’. While we often try to focus on reducing the demands, we tend to spend less time thinking about what resources we have available. Other than what the organization provides you, are there resources you have control over that you’re not taking full advantage of? For example, recognizing and paying attention to your strengths, and finding ways to use them in your current role can be protective against burnout. Relationships are also important, as friendships and buddies you’ve created at work are a network of people who can support you during challenging times and give you additional resources you can tap into.

How is your team identifying and addressing the issues of burnout?

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Michelle McQuaid

Michelle McQuaid

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