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  • The 5 Key Causes of Burnout and How to Avoid Them

Burnout is a common term in the business world although it’s not always well understood.  It’s important not to confuse it with how you might feel after a few bad weeks at the office because burnout is much more serious than simply feeling stressed or tired. Burnout usually materializes after an extended period of time such as months or even years of high stress and/or intense dissatisfaction with the job.  Symptoms include being exhausted all the time, irritability, feeling unaccomplished and unappreciated, and generally being so completely worn out by the role that you question your ability to remain in it.

Many burnt out executives decide that the only solution is to quit their job. Others take extended leave to regroup and recover.  However, neither choice may be the best solution, and it’s unlikely to be a choice made with a clear head.

Clearly, burnout is a serious issue which now has official standing with The World Health Organization as a legitimate medical condition.  Given that burnout can affect anyone at any level of the organization, it’s important to understand the key causes and how to avoid them.

1. Workload

It’s very important our workload matches our capacity to deal with it in order to effectively do what needs to be done and to have time for rest and other important aspects of life. Feeling overburdened with work from time to time is normal, but a sense of constantly racing to get things done or being totally overwhelmed means changes should be made. Start by examining how well you’re doing in these important areas: planning and prioritizing your work, delegating tasks, saying no, and letting go of the need to be perfect. Be honest with yourself about your abilities in each area and take steps to improve in those you feel are the most important.

2. Lack of control

One of the greatest sources of stress is feeling that you lack control. This can arise through a lack of autonomy, a say in important decisions that impact your working life, access to the resources you need to be effective in your job, and more. When you feel you lack control ask yourself what, exactly, is causing the feeling. For example, are you frequently contacted at home making it impossible to switch off from work and relax? Perhaps business priorities keep shifting and you are unclear about where your focus should be. Write down the source of the issue and options for improving the situation.  Perhaps you could agree to certain boundaries with regard to contact? If priorities keep changing, perhaps certain ones can remain constant. Take steps to gain control where you can. Even small adjustment can greatly improve your sense of control and well being.

3. Reward

Feeling properly rewarded for the amount of effort and time we put in goes a long way to achieving job satisfaction. Financial compensation is important, but so too is a sense of satisfaction in that comes with knowing you’re are making a valued contribution. If you find your job is unrewarding, or you don’t feel properly appreciated, step back and ask yourself why. Is it purely financial compensation that’s bothering you?  If so, take the initiative and make a compelling case for a raise or a promotion.  Perhaps what you really need is more interaction with your boss  in person, more feedback, or a simple word of encouragement from time to time. Take stock of your feelings, pin point the root cause of the issue and address it.

4. Relationships

Having good relationships at work with people you trust and who respect and support you can dramatically impact how happy you feel about your job and your effectiveness. However, unlike the relationships we form in our personal life,  we don’t get to choose our colleagues or superiors at work, but we do have to make the best of these relationships, even when they’re difficult. This means ensuring our own behaviour is always professional and appropriate and not allowing ourselves to get drawn into a spiral of disrespect.  If you have a poor relationship with someone at work ask yourself what their perception of you might be.  Does that alter how you feel about them?  If not, find ways to resolve the issue.  Consider reaching out directly for a frank discussion — and be prepared to listen.  If this does not work,  try enlisting the help of your Human Resources department.  It’s very important to resolve relationship issues because they can become a key contributor to burnout.

4. Values Disparity

An individual’s values are usually deeply ingrained and if there is a serious mismatch with those of their employer it can sometimes lead to stress or burnout. When interviewing for a job find out as much as you can about the organization’s culture and values. Do they align with your own? If not, ask yourself if this is something you can live with or a deal-breaker?  If you are on the brink of burnout in your current job,  could it be that the leadership has shifted their values?  Has their motivation changed for how they make important decisions?  If they now have values that differ significantly from your own and it’s impacting you deeply, it may be time to find employment with another company where your values are shared.

Remember, burnout isn’t just about being tired or stressed. Before you take time off or quit your job altogether, think carefully about what exactly is causing your burnout and take steps to resolve it.  If, despite your best efforts the problem remains, it may indeed be time to move on.

If you are experiencing burnout out, or think you may be at risk,  Forge Coaching & Consulting can provide practical, personalized and confidential assistance.


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