Feeling “burnt out?” Tips for how to fall back in love with your work
Most people experience burnout at some stage of their career. The demands of work coupled with responsibilities in personal life may lead to feeling overwhelmed and exhausted. Psychologists and other medical professionals have been studying the effects of “burnout” for decades as our increasingly fast paced lives tend to contribute to increased stress levels over time.
Stress can in turn act as a catalyst for the onset of psychiatric illnesses such as depression, should it not be identified and countered. An article from Kissmetrics explains that burnout isn’t just stress alone but a chronic condition comprising of exhaustion and stress. These two symptoms can in some cases act as the foundation for the development of psychiatric illnesses.
From a legal perspective, identifying this stress and communicating it to an employer or manager is vital as this compels them to discharge their duty of care. In line with the landmark Court of Appeal decision in Sutherland v Hatton, the employer must take “reasonable steps” towards reducing the stress of the employee once it is foreseeable that injury could occur should the employee’s working conditions not be altered.
Communicating burnout and stress may be the most difficult hurdle and a stigma still exists in the workforce in regard to mental illnesses and time off work due to fatigue or stress. However the picture here isn’t all doom and gloom. There are also ways you can reduce your own stress levels. As Matthew Toren (businessman) highlights, as studies have been analysing the rise in stress they’ve also been simultaneously studying ways to combat the burnout of your increasingly busy life.
Take a break
Stress can accumulate when you become overwhelmed with workload and don’t have time to accomplish every task. It is important to take short breaks during the working day in order to prioritise tasks and help alleviate stress and pressure. As Toren writes, short breaks are an “essential part of restoring your sanity,” and adding these breaks to your routine will be beneficial in the long run, no matter how unsuitable they seem in the short term. This includes taking a daily and substantial lunch break.
Workplace psychologist Dr Janet Scarborough Civitelli has stated that a “real” lunch break can be of the “utmost value” for beating burnout. Time away from your desk and some fresh air can serve to revitalise you and act as a stress relief. An even more significant factor is the ability to disconnect from work after the day is over. “Bringing work home” will only serve to increase stress and put a strain on mental health, as work becomes an increasingly dominant aspect of your life. This is part of an increasingly prominent “workaholic” culture in the UK which bears contrast to a model of an efficient work force in Germany.
Studies have found that the Germans are culturally more inclined to leave work at the office and not drag work into their personal lives, adding stressors to family life. Toren suggests that “if you’re worried about burnout, you might want to talk with someone in HR about your concerns”. As mentioned this communication can be crucial for any potential civil claim against your employer for work related stress that may be actionable due to psychiatric injury suffered.
Another means of combating stress is to take inventory – that is to analyse your working conditions and then consider possible changes that could improve the working environment. Sometimes burnout is indicative of your environment more than the workload itself and subtle changes can help improve your mood and attitude towards work.
An example of this consideration may be not to engage in negativity consistently promoted by your colleagues. A fresh approach may help you realise that certain colleagues may be adding to your stress levels. Distancing yourself and disengaging to even a small degree may be the difference between managing stresses effectively and becoming overwhelmed and burnt out. Even subconscious negativity on a daily basis can contribute towards a low mood.
Over time in more serious cases this can lead to time off work and mental illness in the form of depression and anxiety. It is therefore important to recognise the significance of the working environment and to consider ways of improving it. Setting a limit on the exposure to negative and temperamental colleagues can in turn limit the stress that is transferred to you.
Recognising that stress is a problem is one thing but actually taking action to alter the status quo can be a challenging prospect, particularly when it means raising the issues with your superior/employer.
A proactive approach in the form of gradual steps will make for a healthier and happier working life. By taking small actions you begin to build engagement again with your work and this breeds confidence that things are under control again, which can only be beneficial in terms of stress and mental health.
Forbes reports that you can regain much of your enthusiasm for work by switching up tasks or by actively asking for new, or varied responsibilities at the office. Are there any new projects you could get involved in or further training courses you could attend? Diversity in your role helps break the mould and can be beneficial not only for your career but also in order to suppress burnout and stress.
A proactive approach to the onset of symptoms of stress is necessary in order to prevent stress ultimately acting as the catalyst for the development of psychiatric illnesses such as depression. It is undoubtedly difficult, but also important to identify the fact that stress is becoming a problem in your life and not just your working life.
Recognising the problem is the first step towards alleviating stress. Once you have recognised that you are vulnerable due to burnout/ stress that puts you in the position to take action, either through communicating details to your employer or by considering ways of altering your working life for the better, or indeed both.
In legal terms it is evidence of this communication to the employer that is often the most challenging aspect of a stress at work claim- in showing foreseeability of injury existed. So it is indeed advisable practically and legally speaking to keep your employer informed as much as possible if you are struggling with stress at work. This compels them to take a proactive approach in assisting you.
In any event, periods of burnout and stress won’t last forever and there are actions you can take to change your situation for the better and begin to enjoy work again.
If you are interested in finding more about our workplace stress services then please see our Stress at Work page.