No, employees are not opting out of their jobs or hindering their performance because they’ve become lazy. The truth is, 18 months into the Covid-19 pandemic, we now find ourselves in front of another wellness roadblock: a global burnout.
There’s no denying that a sense of numbness, detachment, lack of motivation, and extreme exhaustion is clouding over our current workforce. With this scenario in clear sight, company leaders, HR managers, and employees themselves need to start acknowledging the signs of burnout and finding clear strategies to get back to a state of balance and fulfillment. In their jobs and life in general.
Let’s face it, burnout is not new to the workforce. People have been experiencing it for years, especially in a system that used to value work hours, results, and performance over wellness, growth, and self-care. This, of course, is not to say that the first should be punished or shamed, but there’s a reason why “work-life balance” has become a major trend over the last year.
After the initial shock of the pandemic, and the mindset shift that followed, you’d think that people would’ve become hyper-aware of the role that wellness needs to play in their lives. In a way, this is very much true and tangible when you see the astounding amount of people leaving their jobs or switching careers since April 2021 in search of a balanced work-life.
See “The Great Resignation”
However, job switch or not, there are still thousands of people out there who are very much unaware that they are experiencing burnout. So, before you write a coworker, employee, or yourself off as lazy, disinterested, or incompetent, try to see if you can catch signs of burnout before heading too deep in the wrong direction.
Now, how does one come to be burned out? Well, the World Health Organization defines burnout as an occupational phenomenon “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” However, there’s some debate out there on whether burnout is really just a work-related consequence now that the line between work and life has become blurred by a large portion of the workforce working from home.
It’s safe to say that burnout can be an overall consequence of exhaustion, whether it be mental, physical, or emotional. But since we spend most of our time at work it’s understandable that this would be the most common source. In addition to that, the typical burnout triggers are easily found in workplace environments:
Another burnout trigger is to spread yourself too thin, which sadly we often find in personality types such as the hard worker, the perfectionist, or the high performer. Although we tend to champion or idolize high-performing employees, when not provided with a balanced workplace we run the risk of burning them out.
Whatever your trigger may be, you need to pin it down as soon as possible, but how can you look for the origin of something you might not know you are experiencing?
Physical signs of burnout include fatigue, exhaustion, stress, foggy mind, a weakened immune system, and more. However, we can, and should, also spot the behavioral signs of burnout.
Am I in Lazytown?
A big concern related to burnout is that it can be hard to recognize until it’s too late. Burnout symptoms can not only overlap with other mental health issues, like anxiety and depression but they can easily be confused and dismissed as laziness.
This puts burned-out people at risk of either not asking or getting help because it lessens the need for it. Yet, it is possible to single these two out. Being lazy is a personality trait that doesn’t mix well with type-A perfectionists or over-achievers that drive dangerously near the burnout lane. So, if you relate to the latter, then it’s likely you are not being lazy.
When someone is burnt out, you see a decrease in passion and motivation. Suddenly feeling like laying around and doing nothing because there is no motivation, meaning, or joy in one’s work or hobbies is a sign of burnout. Especially if the person feels guilty or frustrated about their lack of liveliness. Meanwhile, someone who’s being lazy actually enjoys their lounging or couch-potato time.
Autopilot or out of control
Feeling emotionally depleted or numb is a big part of being burned out. One of the main reports among those suffering from burnout is that they feel detached from themselves or disconnected from their lives. Other people describe it as an emotional void that is related to the lack of motivation previously mentioned.
On the other hand, some others experience a rush of uncontrollable feelings in between those periods of numbness. Any situation could be triggering, especially if it’s related to the original cause of burnout. If this is what you’ve been experiencing, don’t worry, you are not going crazy. Talk to yourself with more compassion, the same way you would with a friend or loved one.
Far far away
Another sign of burnout is when people voluntarily isolate themselves. This could have been a far more obvious sign in a pre-pandemic world when we weren’t socially distant. Sure, vaccination campaigns and other sanitary measures are now in motion, but most of us got so used to the isolation that being withdrawn from everyone else doesn’t seem concerning anymore.
People experiencing burnout may feel like talking to others can leave them completely drained. Ironically, the more we shut people out, the easier it is to feel depleted. We have to remember that we need people in our lives. That is, meaningful relationships beyond large party groups or shallow friendships. Having someone we trust to air out our feelings and concerns can help us get back on track and regain control of our lives.
Flat tires at work
By now you know that what happens at work doesn’t just stay at work, no matter what manifests there. One of the classic signs of burnout is a decline in productivity and creativity. When high performers or engaged employees slowly begin to fall behind it’s probably time for them to get some rest, not more work.
The problem is that sometimes either their teams, boss, or themselves will add pressure instead of releasing it. And this may be because they believe they are just being lazy or unable to fulfill their job, despite their previous and excellent track record.
Taking control of the wheel
Now that you know the warning signs, you can start your journey back to wellness and avoid triggering other mental health issues. Though getting help and feeling supported is great, you have the final say. Only you can decide whether you stay or leave burnout behind.
One of the simplest but most effective things you can do to relieve burnout is practice self-care. Take a mental health day, keep a gratitude journal, practice mindfulness every morning, dive back into your hobbies, use your paid time off, etc. These small actions make a huge statement. According to researchers, Yu Tse Heng and Kira Schabram, self-care is a big part of combating burnout.
“We found that engaging in self-care activities (such as a 10-minute meditation session, cooking a nice meal, or even taking a nap) correlated strongly with reduced levels of reported burnout the following day.”-Harvard Business Review, 2021
To sum up, you need to show up for yourself and replenish your sense of self-worth, which doesn’t have to be tied down to your job. Finding a way to feed your joy and meaning on a daily basis will help you quench your exhaustion.
Don’t forget about the human factor:
And, whatever you choose, do not isolate yourself!
Easing the journey
While getting out of burnout starts with whoever is experiencing it, companies need to get involved and promote balance. We often talk about performance reviews but what about self-care updates?
If you are a company leader, caring for your employees has to be explicit, evident in each strategy, and frequently reinforced as part of their culture. Maybe you offer a nice benefits package with many days for PTO, but how often do you encourage your team members to take them?
Do you provide your workforce with resources such as mental health programs or stipends to get started on therapy? As a response to the large number of people needing help, some companies are now offering subscriptions to mental health apps.
There are plenty of ways in which you can take action but if you don’t want to burn your workforce out or scare them away, then you need to start making those changes as soon as possible. Remember, nothing hinders performance and productivity like pressure. Happy and balanced employees make a successful company.
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