First recognized as a syndrome in 2019 by the World Health Organization (WHO), burn-out has been on the rise for a number of years. While tight deadlines, high pressure, and stress have been part of working culture since the times of Henry Ford, the COVID-19 Pandemic, increased connectivity via technology, and staffing shortages across various industries have exacerbated this feeling for business owners, managers, and employees. Like many other mental health symptoms, there is still unfortunately an inherent stigma around talking about, and ultimately dealing with, burn-out; however, ignoring the signs and impacts of burnout could have a disastrous effect on people’s personal lives and work life alike.
Symptoms and Signs of Burnout
“Clinically” speaking, the WHO defines burnout as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” and characterized by three dimensions:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy
When trying to assess if you or a member of your team may be experiencing burnout, the above sounds nice but certainly is not one size fits all and feels a little sterile. Some signs that may indicate you may be suffering burnout include:
While all of us claim to be tired all the time, exhaustion can be an entirely different feeling like you are “running in sand” or lethargic.
2.) Dreading work:
Even for the most impassioned individuals, the lucky ones who “do what they love,” ultimately work is still work.
3.) Difficulty sleeping:
Imagine being both exhausted but also unable to turn off your mind and stress and being unable to sleep? Sounds miserable.
A very serious psychological issue that can lead to a myriad of problems, depression can feel different for everyone, but typically takes the form of persistent sadness and lack of interest.
5.) Short temper:
Getting easily upset and angry over the smallest items is both unhealthy for yourself and for others around you.
6.) Work-life imbalance:
Whether this is a symptom or the cause is probably a great debate, but if you feel as if you cannot take any time away from work and have no-time for non-work activities this can be a sign of burnout.
Without minimizing these feelings, it is important to note that is it normal to experience these from time to time (hey, were all human)! However, according to mental health professionals, the difference between general stress and burnout is typically that stress is short-lived and will ultimately diminish over time with some recovery and a return to “normalcy,” while with burnout you feel these emotions or feelings over longer periods of time and these feelings are constant and not subsiding.
Coping with Burnout
Much like with the symptoms, there is no one size fits all solution to coping with burnout or avoiding it all together. Everyone has a different tolerance and handles the stresses of life and work differently. First and foremost, everyone should make sure they are taking care of their mental health in whatever productive and healthy form that is for them. There have been great strides made in both de-stigmatizing getting help in various forms in the past years and we should all be encouraged to take care of our mental health the same way we take care of our physical health. Beyond these steps, here are some additional ways that individuals can help avoid burnout or can do when they are feeling burnt out:
1.) Rest, recovery, and disconnecting:
While increased technology has made it easier to do things, so many of us are never truly offline. Having time away from work and the related stresses is crucial for everyone. Setting schedules, times, and boundaries to do so, whether its Tuesday date night with your partner or time for your favorite TV show can help with this. Find your passion, the thing that helps you disconnect and get out of your head, and make regular time for it … like you would for any other work related activity.
2.) Reconnecting with your work passion:
Many have chosen their career path for a reason beyond compensation that drove them in the first place. Remembering why you chose to work in a field or what about your field first interested you at a time when you weren’t feeling burned out can help to remind you of that feeling and bring purpose back to your work.
3.) Treating yourself:
Sometimes we just need to remind ourselves of the fruits of our labor at work and treating ourselves to a special treat, whether that be a tangible item or an experience (like a vacation) which can also help with rest, recovery, and disconnecting.
4.) Finding a work-life balance:
For many, this may feel as elusive as a unicorn or bigfoot, but resetting the work-life balance can help many mitigate many of the stressors that can lead to burnout. Remembering what your non-work priorities are and what they mean to you and set time aside for them first (rather than last) can help make this more realistic.
It is a near guarantee at some point or another we will all feel some form of burnout from work, it is only natural. Recognizing the symptoms can help you realize when it may be time to do something, especially if it is impacting performance. Many of the above mechanisms for coping with burnout can work equally well as preventative care to help avoid burnout in the first place. The important thing is to take care of yourself.
Edward McWilliams, CPA
Ed is a Partner in the firm’s tax and business advisory practice focusing on providing services to middle market private companies across different industries as well as to early stage startups. Ed has over a decade of experience providing tax and business consulting services to these companies of different sizes and across different industries, bringing a broad and diverse knowledge base and strategic solutions to the many complex issues that businesses face.