Managers lead teams and product development, project deadlines and communicate between departments, all while working to “meet the bottom line.” And in an age where technology has made the line between home and work life imperceptible, it’s difficult to disconnect and decompress. They are faced with a laundry list of tasks, meetings, and projects – it seems inevitable that managers will face getting burnt out. Nowadays burnout is a blanket term interchangeably used to describe being tired, stressed, and overworked but what is it really?
Acknowledging burnout as symptom of a deeper source of discontent can be the start of overcoming it in a more systemized manner. For one, in addition to the demands of work exceeding the amount of available energy, being burnt out is feeling, “overwhelming exhaustion, frustration, cynicism and a sense of ineffectiveness and failure,” according to a NY Times’ article.
The Association for Psychological Science refers to three types of burnout including “overload, lack of development, and neglect.” To avoid all aspects of burnout, it needs to be tackled from all sides.
Start by treating the physical
Taking care of basic physical needs results in improved mood, increased energy, and the feeling of being back in the driver’s seat. Getting enough sleep, exercise, and diet are the basic 101’s of self-care but what about the small stuff in between?
Smaller rituals to restock energy and refuel the brain can come in the form of meditation, taking naps, going for a walk, having lunch away from the desk, chatting with a colleague, or unplugging from phones and computers.
Harvard Business Review found that, “We tend to assume that [it] requires trying harder or outworking others, [which] may get you short-term results but [is] physiologically unsustainable.” To perform at your best over the long term, you need regular “opportunities for restocking your mental energy,” says Ron Friedman, founder of ignite80, a consulting firm focused on leadership development.
Incorporating these de-stressing mechanisms into daily rituals can overhaul the structure of work, leaving space for decompression and becoming re-engaged with work while focusing that energy into a more productive working style. Becoming immersed in a problem leads to a kind of brain “tunnel vision.” Taking a break allows for a refresh and it is in those breathers that, “that solutions becomes apparent.”
Build a community
Other causes of burnout include “workplace community problems, such as incivility and a lack of support among co-workers” as stated by The New York Times. People can work really hard, but still be engaged and not feel the pangs of burnout according to Christina Maslach, Professor of Psychology at UC Berkeley. One program tested the effect of weekly meetings with facilitators for six months to hash out communication difficulties. After six months, group members reported less exhausted and cynicism and more commitment and job satisfaction compared to control groups who experienced no such changes.
Even connecting with mentors or supervisors can keep one motivated – in fact, neglect and lack of development are one of the issues cited as reasons for burnout and lowered productivity. In this case, according to 99U, burnout is “most closely associated with an avoidance coping strategy. These under-challenged workers tend to manage stress by distancing themselves from work, a strategy that leads to depersonalization and cynicism — a harbinger for burning out and packing up shop.”
Take things one step at a time
It’s easy to get lost in the sea of digital availability, but being available 24 hours a day is a recipe for disaster and guarantees burnout. Having a sustainable system rather than reacting for immediacy is the way to avoid burnout. Managers need to set boundaries whether it means not checking your emails during vacation, not emailing after hours, or focusing on spending quality time with friends and family, it will provide respite to busy managers while being clear on expectations with the rest of the team.
Same goes for trying to do everything, all the time, always. “Multitasking and overwork lead to anxiety, depression, and other difficulties.” Being a manager doesn’t mean doing a million things at the same time, rather doing fewer things correctly can save a lot of time and heartache down the road. Taking on too many commitments bog managers down with too many tasks making it impossible to execute all of them. By getting into the habit of saying “no,” managers can avoid “information overload” and spend time on completing more urgent projects.
Find meaning at work
At the end of the day, it’s important to remember why managers’ jobs are important. Not only are they responsible for leading teams and projects, but they’re next in line for higher leadership roles. That’s why visualizing larger personal goals should be embedded into a manager’s mind so they stay focused and driven while developing a skill set to manage stress and time. People who don’t find meaning in their jobs are more prone to burnout. Contextualizing every task within the company’s larger goals and making a transparent discussion about the team’s personal contributions brings to meaning back into the work.
Managers on the brink of burning out need to understand that reactivating energy and motivation is key in accomplishing long-term goals in a consistent and systemized manner. Such systems include changing working habits to bring focus into work while taking care of body and mind in and outside of the workplace.