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T2P17 – Burnout Blues

Monday, were back! Another rapid week in my world, has it been just as fast for everyone else? This week in the news there have been rumbles of another potential lockdown next month with the rising COVID cases. It’s hard to know how seriously to take these rumbles as we have also just seen the reversal of the approach on vaccine passports. News I am hoping that we can take seriously is Department of Health and Social Care Secretary of State Sajid Javid insisting that he is investigating a way to stop the requirement for PCR tests to travel. I did travel this weekend to a destination that didn’t require a PCR test as it’s within the common travel area of the UK, Belfast. Getting there was a slight struggle with there being an incident in Croydon delaying trains from going to Gatwick, but this did offer a chance for a moan with my fellow stranded travellers. One, was heading to a Wedding and was explaining how she’s had a gruelling week and was running on fumes. She is not alone in that feeling, so for today’s blog I’ll be focusing on burnout.

The World Health Organization (WHO) defines Burnout as a syndrome that’s a result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion

  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and

  3. Reduced professional efficacy. Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.

Of the three dimensions listed above, it’d be no surprise to me at all if we’ve experienced one of them, if not all of them since the pandemic begun. It’s in the interest of organisations to help guide their employees out of burnout, especially as they may be the very cause of it. When in Belfast, I visited the Titanic (really good btw) and as I was navigating through it, the working conditions of staff really struck me. At the time of building the Titanic they were extremely poor; one example was pregnant women having constantly long hours and minimal maternity leaves. This is unthinkable today, so I do wonder if the next improvements to working conditions will be geared towards mental health. Organisations are putting much more emphasis on this and some have gone as far as paying for the therapy of employees. Here are an additional 5 ways employers can support their employees:

  1. Reach out to employees and ask how they're feeling about their workload

  2. Encourage friendships in the workplace and plan team-building events

  3. Give employees an hour or two off work weekly to volunteer at an outside organization (and pay for their time)

  4. Encourage employees to use vacation time

  5. Get a company membership at a gym nearby

Whilst the WHO definition refers specifically to the workplace. I believe burnout extends outside of the workplace; these are considered in the four burners theory.

The four burners theory essentially states that at a high level our lives can be split into four burners, health, work, family and friends. The theory suggests:

In order to be successful, you have to cut off one of your burners. And in order to be really successful, you have to cut off two.”

My view on the four burners theory is that life requires a ton of flexibility and sacrifice. We're frequently told that we can have and do it all, and whilst that’s not false that's not quite the full picture. I can appreciate why prioritisation is appreciated so much in project management as the ability to juggle things is a fine art. Implicitly, the four burners theory suggests that attempts at constantly having all burners going at once will produce mediocrity. Or in line with today's topic you can have them all blasting and quite possibly excelling at each aspect, but that's not going to remain sustainable. If we consider our cookers at home, that it’s bound to take a toll on the boiler and pretty quickly.

  • Example of Health: Committing to gym 4 times a week

  • Example of Work: Taking on additional stretching work

  • Example of Family: Attending sports games of kids

  • Example of Friends: Remaining in touch with all of them

  • Have a think about how the four burners set in your life right now

Not all despair though, for burnout is not irreversible. There are ways to deal with those feelings of burnout. Seasons is one way, this is where we alter our burners in accordance with the season. During study seasons, my friends and family take dips in order to give my best for work. Lockdown forced a dip in our friendship burners, with losing the ability to see them in person. In my case this dip allowed me to put more time in self-study for Prince2 and additional courses. Outsourcing is another effective way, simply hiring someone allows people and business to relieve some of the burden of work. Generally, to deal with burnout on a lower level:

  • Make sure you take your annual leave

  • Get enough sleep. Turn off your screens and do something to relax before you go to bed at night

  • Try to finish work on time.

  • Schedule in time for pleasant activities: Make time for relaxing, hobbies and calls with friends and family

  • Ask for help if you need it. If you are struggling with burnout it may be beneficial to take a few days off work while you recover

I hope these burnout blues have been informative to you and possibly help when facing burnout. Following the advice of managing burnout, I’ve taken tomorrow off to allow me to give great attention towards my health, family and friends for my birthday. Tomorrow’s birthday provides for next week’s topic, tales of a quarter life crisis. In wrapping up, what are our Monday moods? And what zones are we and why? Personally, this Monday I feel blessed!


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