How to spot the warning signs of burnout.

How to spot the warning signs of burnout.
April 1, 2020 Linda Murray

2020 has kicked off in Australia with fires, floods, climate change concerns and coronavirus outbreak all taking their toll on individuals and businesses.

Where traditionally colleagues returned from the festive season feeling refreshed and revitalised, this year we are seeing our team members battling extreme stressors that carried through right across the new year and well into the first half of the year. It is my prediction that the combination of these extreme events and a lack of rest during traditional break times will trigger a higher volume of burnout in employees then perhaps we have ever seen before.

What might cause burnout this year?

2020 will be demanding and your leadership skills will be more vital than ever if your company is to survive. Some companies are already reporting a drop in turnover while others are struggling to protect their workers from infection.

The pressure to maintain quality customer service and keep business deliveries on track despite these major interruptions to the supply chain is high.

Beyond managing the day to day events that arise, leaders now have the added pressure of preparing contingency plans to mitigate against further emergencies, both anticipated and unexpected.

On top of it all, we are working with worried, stressed and fearful employees who are afraid of what the future might bring. The newspapers and social media are filled with predictions of economic crises which only make the situation worse.

Are you at risk of burnout?

I need to ask this question. While you’re looking after the needs of your company, who is looking after yours?

Don’t allow yourself to be consumed by the demands and pressures you’re facing.

I know you’re a strong and passionate leader. You’re willing to work long hours and make the tough choices to get the job done and look after your people while you do it. This combination is the perfect recipe for burnout.

The World Health Organisation defines burnout like this:

Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy

Here are the 6 warning signs of burnout to watch for in 2020:

If you are continuously experiencing one or more of these signs, it’s time to stop and take stock of where you’re headed.

  1. Exhaustion.

I don’t just mean the kind of tired we all feel after a hard day. I’m talking about the kind of tiredness that doesn’t go away; the kind which makes it difficult to get out of your chair or lift your head form the pillow each morning.

  1. Increased rate of sickness.

Your body will keep going for a while but eventually, it forces you to stop. When your immunity is lowered, you catch every disease out there, from the common cold through to heavy flu or worse. If you find you’re unable to shake a cold or you suffer regular bouts of sickness, your body is telling you something

  1. Insomnia

When you can’t sleep because your brain keeps you awake every night … Whether you struggle to fall asleep or stay asleep, if it happens regularly, you have insomnia which is probably triggered by your worries.

  1. Loss of focus.

It may start off as forgetfulness, then distraction, and eventually come to the point where can’t focus or simply don’t want to. When the situation seems overwhelming, this is one way your brain stops the overload. Unfortunately, this also leads to the feeling that you’re inefficient and simply not up to the job.

  1. Negativity

We all have bad days but if you never have a good day, and you feel constantly stuck in a pit of negativity as all-consuming as quicksand, there’s clearly something wrong.

  1. Antisocial

Obviously we are being instructed to socially distance, but it’s important to remain connected with people (phone calls, virtual coffees, virtual happy hour with friends, etc). When burnout is really kicking in, you might find yourself wanting to avoid people and social interactions. You are too tired to put on a happy face and you feel angry and resentful that others can enjoy life while you are struggling. Family or friends, you just can’t face them, in any format.

Leading a company is never easy but 2020 has thrown huge challenges which would hinder even the best leaders. It’s important to look after yourself – not just for your own well-being, but for that of your team. As the saying goes, you can’t pour from an empty cup. You have a responsibility to take care of yourself.

If you learn to identify these warning signs early, you can take steps to avoid burning out. Looking after yourself is a skill you need to develop if you’re to be a strong leader. Peak Performance is still within your grasp.

Hi Linda, Great session on Peak Performance on Wednesday. The structure is effective: takes you on a journey from awareness, understanding the need, understanding the drivers, explaining constructs to help maintain and raise that awareness of what can go wrong and take us off track, understanding approaches that will make improvements, and importantly, leaving you with some simple tools that with a bit of practice, we won’t have to think about! (and hence might actually use!) And your presentation is no less terrific: positive, balanced energy, articulate, clear, engaging. Thank You 🙂 “ Zabek – Head of Portfolio – NAB

When you’re feeling the symptoms of burnout, it can be hard to reach out to those around you without feeling like a failure. If you need help learning to deal with burnout, I’d love you to attend one of my workshops on Energy Management or Resilience and Mental Toughness. I’ll show you the tools you can use to survive and thrive during tough times like these.

Don’t suffer in silence. Reach out.


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