Burnout. Once synonymous with local hoons burning tyre marks into the streets with their secondhand Commodores. Now, a household term for the exhaustion of the daily grind in a pandemic-changed world. It’s also a sure-fire way to make a weekday feel like a year, and take the shine off your downtime if it gets the better of you.
According to a survey conducted in 2021 by Australian Unions, mental health is the ‘fastest growing challenge to the safety of working people in their workplaces.’ As a particular type of work-related stress, burnout can manifest as a state of physical or emotional exhaustion, and can really knock around your sense of self and how you process the world around you.
If you think you might be suffering from burnout at work, there are a few questions you can ask yourself to suss out if it is really burnout, if you just need to go to bed a little earlier or cut back on your daily double flatties.
Before we dive into some tips on actioning change at work to improve your happiness and wellness, these questions might help you to determine if you’re in the throes of burnout already.
- Do you suffer a serious lack of enthusiasm starting your work day?
- Have you become prone to negative reactions with co-workers, customers or clients?
- Is sustaining productivity throughout the day increasingly difficult to maintain?
- Has your ability to concentrate left the building?
- Struggling to enjoy the glow of achievement when you nail a task?
- Leaning on food, drugs or alcohol as a coping mechanism?
- Having trouble sleeping, or sleep too much?
If you answered yes to a few of these, then you might be experiencing some over-toasted work stress. Before we dive into our top tips on reversing burnout, remember that if you’re feeling really low and need someone to talk to, Lifeline and Beyond Blue are available for support, 24/7.
Acknowledge How You're Feeling
The first step in actioning any kind of change is admitting first, that you have a problem. Taking the time to check in with yourself and honestly identify areas in your work life where you might be struggling is the key to solving the problem.
It’s also the best way to catch burnout when it’s at a smoulder, rather than when the flames are tickling your toes. Actively setting aside time to be honest with yourself and reflect on how you’re handling stress at work without judgement is invaluable, but not always the easiest thing to self-facilitate. Luckily, mindfulness is having a moment, and if you need a little guidance on which meditation resource might be right for you, we roadtested a bunch over here so you don’t have to.
Dust Off The Cobwebs
We all know that it’s hard to think straight when the anxious voice in your head has the microphone cranked up to full volume. One of the best ways to get your thoughts in order is to dust off the cobwebs and get your body moving.
It can truly feel like an impossible task to lace up your sneakers and leave the house when you’re in the grips of burnout, but for us, nine times out of ten, we always walk back in the door feeling better than we left. You don’t even have to brave the outside world if your worried brain is getting the better of you. There are so many free, online resources to lean on to get your body moving. From yoga and pilates for all levels to quick and easy home workouts like these three, 15-minute, no equipment workouts with fitness expert Katie Martin crafted for Reason Season. Or simply putting on a banger and dancing with abandon in your bedroom.
Exercising with purpose generates feel-good chemicals in your brain, including endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine and reduces the levels of cortisol and adrenaline in your body, combating the stress response. If your chemicals are leaning more towards the happy end of the scale, you’re more likely to think more clearly and positively and identify your burnout causes and solutions more easily.
Take A Moment To Suss Out Your Options
Okay, so have burnout at work. That won’t impress you much. The stressed voice in your head might be feeling defeated, but there are always options for redefining your boundaries and problem solving the key triggers for your burnout.
Short of throwing up your hands and cashing in your annual leave, while a vacay does have some scientifically proven benefits for your health, there are some longer-lasting, sustainable strategies to managing burnout.
First, try to identify the aspects of your work life that are contributing to how you’re feeling. Are you working too many hours to stay on top of your workload? Is there a specific issue that is keeping you awake at night? A dynamic that is disrupting your happiness? Figure out where you’re being stretched and make notes.
Have A Chat With Your Manager
Once you’ve identified the cause of the burnout you can begin to problem solve. Start by reaching out to HR, or your supervisor to lock in a one-on-one chat specifically to address your burnout. Be prepared for this chat, write everything down that you want to say, and try to be as honest as possible. If your boss isn’t aware of the issue, then they can’t take the steps to help you fix it.
As difficult as it may be to put a positive spin on things when you’re in the throes of burnout, framing a solution as a way to be a more effective employee will work in your favour.
According to clinical psychologist, Dr Jenny Yip, ‘It is key to frame the conversation in a way that gives your boss an opportunity to provide you with feedback on what are some things that are working and some things that aren’t working, so you can collaborate and improve moving forward.’ She also recommends introducing regular check-ins with your boss to check in on progress and catch further burnout triggers before they develop.
Out Of Sight Out Of Mind
Sometimes when the little changes add up it makes a world of difference and this is a practical tip that we swear by—put your work tech away when the clock strikes knock-off.
Easier said than done sometimes, but setting clear boundaries for yourself (and your workplace) is super important for work-life balance. With two-thirds of Australians working from home in the last few years, it’s become increasingly difficult to separate work from home, so creating your own, tangible draw or cupboard-shaped boundaries is invaluable. Plus, switching off your computer completely at the end of the day makes it just a little bit harder to jump on to check something ‘real quick’ and end up sucked back into tasks when you should be spending time with your loved ones or catching up on Stranger Things so that the final isn’t spoiled for you.
Talk To Your Union
This doesn’t mean organising action and going on strike, but if you’re not part of your industry union, it might pay to sign up or at least suss any resources they can provide that are relevant to your workplace. Liam O’Brien, the Assistant Secretary of the Australian Council of Trade Unions (ACTU) believes that workers who find themselves facing burnout or poor mental health caused by workplace stressors can ‘empower themselves immediately by joining their union.’
Being in a union means that your voice is amplified by coming together with others in your industry, and workplace issues that are larger than solutions your boss can assist with, such as wage increases, well-defined job duties, and better leave entitlements, can be negotiated and legislated at a higher level.
Unions are also a wealth of information on your existing industry standards, so if you want to get clued up on your entitlements at work, they’re a great place to start. Not sure which union is right for you? Head over here to explore your options.
Ultimately, the burnout buck falls with your employer and their responsibility to ensure their workplace is a safe environment for you and your fellow employees. Making sure you communicate your burnout and its causes is crucial if they’re going to make changes and help.
Head over here for Reason Season's second Weekday module for three, 15-minute, no equipment workouts with fitness expert Katie Martin.
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Image credit: Urban List
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