For all the talk around burnout at work, there’s actually very little being done about it. An extensive internet search about global workloads leads us to the conclusion that, despite rising awareness about burnout, employees all over the world are overwhelmingly working more, and burning out more, than they did a few years ago.
- Gallup global data found 76% of workers say they experience burnout at work at least sometimes. Only 4% said they’d never felt it.
- Research in 2021 found employees in Europe and North America were working up to three hours more per day than the year prior.
- The New Zealand Productivity Commission continues to claim Kiwi employees work longer hours for less pay, compared to most other OECD countries.
- In 2022, 68% of respondents in a Frog Recruitment survey in New Zealand said they felt more burnt out than a year ago.
- In the UK, a Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) study found workloads were by far the biggest cause of workplace stress. For those whose workplaces were trying to reduce stress, only half said they were effective.
Clearhead user data backs this up too. Recently, we've seen an increase in work/life-related issues, where high workload and life demands are leading contributors.
Why is this happening?
It’s not a simple question to answer, but one thing that people who suffer from burnout often say is that they struggle to set boundaries and keep a reasonable workload.
The importance of boundaries
Even if you like your job, that doesn’t mean doing it all the time is good for you. Boundaries give you freedom, variety and rest, and all of these things are critical in avoiding burnout.
Studies have shown employees who can set and maintain work-life boundaries report having better mental health and are less likely to experience burnout. Having boundaries leads to a better work-life balance, which leads to more job satisfaction and better wellbeing.
Burnout isn’t always solely attributed to work: you might be having difficulty with a relationship or finances as well as work issues. But as an activity that takes up a majority of your day, work gives you less time to focus on these things and has the ability to serve up its own issues on top of the other things on your mind.
That means having boundaries around work is one of the most effective things you can do to stop burnout. Ensuring you have the time, energy, and mental space you need to be able to deal with the challenges in your life whether that is personal or work-related.
Prevent burnout by taking these 9 steps
There’s a range of boundaries you can set and habits you can adopt to reduce the impact work has on your wellbeing:
1. Set goals and prioritise tasks. Studies have shown how achieving goals at work leads to greater job satisfaction and motivation, while having a well organised to-do list gives you direction that helps to manage and prioritise tasks, which prevents you from feeling overwhelmed.
2. Get comfortable saying no. A lot of people struggle to say no to things, even when they’re already busy. You might want to be a team player, or that request might feel like a good opportunity, but if it ends up overwhelming you then it’s a net loss. Saying no is powerful for your own wellbeing. Understand your capacity to manage your current workload and recognise that declining requests doesn’t mean you’re uncooperative. If anything, it’s the opposite.
3. Disconnect when you’re not at work. Smartphones and tech enable people to work after hours, which is a key driver of burnout. But you can also use technology to literally switch off when you’re not at work.
Switch off your notifications outside your standard working hours, you can disable emails, sign out of Slack or Teams, or turn your work phone onto Do Not Disturb. Make it clear that you won’t be responding to work messages after hours unless it is business critical to do so. Being able to disconnect has a raft of mental and physical health benefits.
4. Focus time at work. It’s important that you can carve our time to really focus on your, work whether that’s two hours in the morning every day or setting aside a whole day where you don’t have meetings. This is a great way to get things done and feel happy with the progress you’re making.
During those times, update your status to say that you are doing focus work. You can block out your calendar so that it doesn’t get filled with meetings, or temporarily snooze your notifications - these things will help you get into a state of flow, which is great for your wellbeing.
5. Take breaks during the day. When you’re busy, it often feels like you don’t have time for a break. Not taking breaks means stress builds throughout the day and has been linked to burnout. But short, regular breaks can prevent fatigue and give you a fresh burst of energy.
Sitting at a desk the whole day is boring and repetitive, and even if you think you don’t have time, you’ll probably find you get more done if you can take five minutes to get some fresh air.
6. Practice self care. People who practise self care have been shown to have greater job satisfaction, and stay in their jobs longer. Make a point of doing things you know you enjoy.
Whether it’s going for a walk, seeing friends or family, meditating or anything else, being able to do things you love gives real inner satisfaction that prevents burnout. Be purposeful in how you spend your time away from work and use it in a way that fills up your cup.
7. Get support. If you feel yourself starting to burn out, it’s critical you do something about it. Raise how you’re feeling with your manager so they can help you with rebalancing your priorities and workload.
Seeking help in the early stages can help to prevent things getting worse. A good place to start is to book therapy through your EAP provider like Clearhead. By seeking professional support, you can better understand how much your mental health is being affected, learn tools and techniques to address the things causing you stress and better manage your mental wellbeing.
8. Flexibility at work. Modern workplaces are increasingly offering flexibility to staff. Being able to work from home or have more control of your own hours can really help to ease the mental load. If your workplace doesn’t already offer this, speak to them about a hybrid working environment, work remotely, job sharing or any other kind of flexibility that allows you to achieve a better work-life balance.
9. Spread out your annual leave. Rather than saving up all your annual leave and using it in one go, try taking more regular short breaks. This helps to recharge your batteries throughout the year and reduces burnout.
10. Social Connections at work. Take the time to have non-work related discussions at work. Even just catching up with a morning tea helps to connect with people and bring your whole self to work. Building your personal peer support network at work also really helps to create job satisfaction.
If you’re a manager or company leader, practicing healthy work boundaries yourself sends a very clear message that it’s important. Role modelling this behaviour is one of the most effective things you can do to encourage other employees to do it too.
Alert your manager to how you’re feeling
If you’re struggling, talking to your manager is often the quickest way to improve the situation. By making them aware that your workload is getting overwhelming, you can work together to make sure their expectations are more realistic. But having that conversation may not be easy.
Often, workplaces do have strategies to address burnout and improve staff mental health, but workers may not know about them. Burnout is on the radar of every employer today, and while it may not sound not ideal, sometimes employees need to take the first step to create improvement. You shouldn’t feel like your manager won’t support you just because you’re not sure what they can do about it.
It’s worth being deliberate in the way you go about the conversation.
- Schedule the time. Ideally, you’ll have regular 1:1 with your manager where you can raise issues. If you don’t, don’t just try to have a conversation on the fly. Requesting even a 15 minute conversation shows it’s important, and it gives you time to prepare what you want to say.
- Avoid criticism. Blaming your manager won’t help the situation. Be solution-oriented, and try to collaboratively work towards an outcome that works for both you and your employer. Ideally your manager will be trained to be comfortable to have these wellbeing conversations with you in a constructive manner.
- Be specific. Bring examples to the conversation. Talk about what specific tasks or projects are causing you the most stress and give examples of how they’re impacting your wellbeing. Or, if your manager’s inability to regulate their own stress levels and challenging management style is the reason, bring those up too.
- Plan solutions. Offer ideas for concrete ways to improve the situation. This will help to focus the conversation around how things can be done better.
- Follow up. At the end of the conversation, arrange to check back in a few weeks to see if the changes are working. You may need to tweak the new approach, or simply just make sure it’s making a difference to your mental wellbeing. Monitor your workload in the meantime and raise any future concerns if you have any.
Burnout typically creeps into people’s lives when there aren’t any strategies in place to prevent it. Having any boundaries at all will make a difference. Be firm on your boundaries; they are there for a reason, and try to resist the temptation to break them.
Employers have a responsibility to protect the wellbeing of their staff, and burnout is a key element of that. While individuals have some responsibility to set their own boundaries, workplace cultures have a big role to play in not expecting too much of staff.
If you feel comfortable and able, you may be able to have conversations with senior colleagues you trust and look to drive systemic change that has even greater influence on burnout across the organisation.
To find out more about how Clearhead can proactively build staff mental resilience and help workplaces to support their people to thrive, book a free demo today.
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