So what is burnout? It’s a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and are unable to meet constant demands. It can be caused by your workload, a perceived lack of control, a misalignment in the amount of effort and the payoff (whether that’s an intrinsic or extrinsic reward), a values mismatch, or the community/environment.
Burnout is not something that has to happen though. It can be prevented, you don’t have to experience it, you can heal from it, and as a leader, you better believe you can create an environment that does not contribute to it.
First, understand the root cause of burnout for yourself (so that you don’t inadvertently continue to experience it), then understand how to protect your team from burnout by creating a psychologically safe work environment and culture.
Identify the Root Cause of Burnout
You have to be willing to look at your role in the situation. Especially if you’ve experienced habitual burnout at multiple jobs, companies, or leading your own businesses.
Have achievement and success always been important to you? Have you always tried to differentiate yourself from others by your accomplishments? Is your identity largely defined by what you do, your business or your career?
If you answered yes to any of these, you’re more likely to suffer from burnout because you will naturally put more pressure on yourself to continue driving and achieving (even if there are warning signs to slow down). Also, your sense of self and identity is going to be largely predicated on the very thing driving you to burnout. It will feel wrong or bad to say “no” or “I can’t manage this right now.” You may even feel like you’ve failed.
If you can relate to this, start the sometimes long process of untangling your true self and your identity from your career, business, or achievements. Who are you without your career, business, or achievements? Who or what brings you even greater joy, fulfillment, and peace? And how can you begin turning to those people or activities more?
You do this by making more room for the things that bring you joy and allow you to just be (no performance or achievement needed). Then you’re able to loosen your grip on the very thing causing you so much stress and burnout. This is when you can begin to explore a new relationship with your career, business or with achievement in general.
Protect Your Team From Burnout
As a leader, how can you ensure that your culture and work environment are not contributing to burnout? Well, it needs to be psychologically safe. Psychological safety is a belief that you are safe to speak your mind, make mistakes, and you won’t be punished. It helps to prevent burnout specifically by making it safe to speak up. If your team members don’t feel safe to speak up, then they won’t let you know when something is not working, broken, failing, or when they’re getting close to burning out (you want to know these things as a leader). If they don’t feel safe speaking up, then you must look at the culture you’re creating and wonder why.
How to Establish Psychological Safety
In her book The Fearless Organization, Amy Edmonson writes that psychological safety can be cultivated by inviting participation, responding productively, setting expectations about failure and expectations, reframing failure (fail forward, fail fast), clarifying the need for people to speak up, and reminding people why what they do matters. This last one, reminding people that what they do matters, is especially poignant when talking about burnout. If what they do matters and they matter, then hopefully they’ll feel compelled to take good care of themselves.
So, if you’re starting to feel burnt out, how safe do you feel speaking up in your current environment? What would happen if you shared how overwhelmed you actually were? What would happen if you pointed out the things that were causing excessive stress for you and other members of the team?
If the thought of this creates even more stress, then most likely you don’t feel psychology safe. And at that point, re-evaluate why you’re staying in a job or a business or with a client where you can’t actually speak up when things are going wrong. No job or business or client is worth your health. This may feel like total blasphemy. Especially if you’re committed or if your identity is wrapped up in this job, business, or client.
But if you can’t speak up, speak your truth, or share when you’re having a hard time without there being repercussions, is this a job or business or client you even want to be associated with? Ask yourself that.
No, you don’t want to be in an environment where you don’t feel psychologically safe. This type of environment can cause very real trauma, which can destroy every other part of your life.
Release and Restore
If you’re on the verge of burnout, your central nervous system (CNS) is struggling. Picture the CNS like an intricate network of wires, sending information and data back and forth throughout the body. When we’re burning out, those wires are sparking and the casing on the wires is getting brittle. You want to do things to sooth that network and release any of the gunk that has built up from chronic stress. You don’t want that stress to stay stuck in your body and mind. It will act like a low level disease, constantly draining you of your energy and vitality.
Here’s how to give your CNS a break.
1. How to release
So first, you want to work to release the stress, anger or trauma. Some ways to do this include both vigorous exercise (where you’re sweating a lot) and very gentle exercise like yoga and stretching. You want to see how you feel after you do both. If you’re already exhausted, then you may not have the energy for vigorous exercise, and that’s okay. Start with gentle exercise. Conversely, if you’re jittery or feel like you might explode (or explode on someone), then a long run may be just the ticket.
If you’ve been suppressing stress for a long time you might not know how to listen to your body. But it is still important to try. After the activity, simply ask yourself, how do I feel? Your goal is to continue doing what feels good.
Other ways to release the stress and anger is to do breath work (it is recommend to do this with a practitioner your first few times, then you can find free programs online), hit a pillow, scream, sit in a sauna, or jump on a rebounder (both of these help clear accumulated toxins and negative energy from your lymphatic system)
2. How to restore
Now, it’s time to restore. Great ways to restore the CNS and help to heal the body and mind from Burnout are:
- Acupuncture, massage, and yoga
- Working with a trauma-informed executive coach
- Working with a trauma-informed therapist (who has worked with people suffering from burnout specifically)
- Intuitive healing, spiritual healing, or connecting with your angels & guides
With these tools, you have the potential to establish a psychologically safe environment and banish burnout for you and your team.
Looking for more personalized support? Considering the benefits of executive coaching by the NU Company.