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How You Can Get the Help You Need
To say the past year or so has been difficult would be an understatement. Living through a pandemic has caused most of us at least increased stress, with many others experiencing more severe issues. There is evidence of reduced cognitive functioning brought on by the trauma of the situation, and some people are having symptoms of mental breakdown. Among the more common consequences of COVID-19 is the potential for workplace burnout.
It is certainly understandable that you may have found yourself living with the increased fatigue, strain, and emotional distress that goes along with burnout. After all, social isolation due to distancing and telecommuting measures, juggling home responsibilities with your work duties, and a general sense of uncertainty don’t easily leave room for a healthy work-life balance. What is clear, though, is that allowing the symptoms of burnout unaddressed is not a sustainable course of action.
This is of course very easy to say. Knowing how to go about identifying and accessing the help you need can feel difficult to navigate, particularly if you’re already finding this time stressful. Let’s review some of the main areas you should be focusing on.
Recognizing the Symptoms
One of the problems that many people have when it comes to employee burnout is the tendency to try to sweep it under the rug. Society tells us that being run down at the end of the week is just a sign that we’re good, hard workers. This idea is neither accurate nor helpful. Rather, one of your most powerful tools for both maintaining your mental health and getting the help you need is recognizing what the symptoms are and how they can impact you.
Some of the most common include:
This can be one of the most readily overlooked burnout symptoms because most people expect to be tired at the end of a hard working day or week. However, finding your energy levels fluctuating for prolonged periods of time, frequent headaches, feeling constant bodily weakness, and being both mentally and physically exhausted are not typical in a healthy human being. Continued fatigue can leave you exposed to other illnesses and can even be instrumental in causing accidents.
The emotional and mental elements of employee burnout aren’t limited to issues such as depression. It’s important to understand that you might find that you experience more varied or more extreme mood swings — this can include anxiety, irritability, and decreased self-esteem. When left unchecked, this can cause you additional stress, or develop into more serious acute mental illness issues.
One of the symptoms that can seem very much like a defense mechanism against the strains of the world is the sense of emotional numbness. A kind of apathy can become present, which extends to other areas of your life — leading to an inability to feel joy or satisfaction in your daily life. This can also become one of the early signs of depression.
Talking About Burnout
Once you recognize that you have symptoms, it is important to not take on additional pressure as a result. You are acknowledging their existence so that you have the power to do something about it. This starts with actually broaching the topic with relevant parties so that you can all take a solutions-oriented approach to addressing the issues and helping you stay healthy.
Some of the key stakeholders to approach the matter with include:
This is probably the most difficult conversation to have about burnout. After all, many people avoid talking to their boss about mental and physical health issues because they feel as though they may be discriminated against. However, you should remember that, in many cases, you’ll have protections under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) to prevent this.
Be open about the issues you’re experiencing and what parts of your work and home life you feel are contributing to burnout. Avoid playing a blame game, either directed at yourself or your job. Instead, it can be helpful to take a personally responsible approach — talk about the preventative steps you’ve already taken and how you feel accommodations to mitigate burnout will make you a healthier and more productive employee.
Your colleagues may be among the most important people you talk to about your symptoms of burnout. Not only will they be able to navigate the effect it has on the team, it may also give those who are also experiencing burnout to have the confidence to talk about it, too.
When there are specific elements of your job that are contributing to burnout, it can also be a positive step to try and reach solutions as a team. Have a meeting and brainstorm the issues together. Keep it organized; if you’re not feeling up to the task yourself, identify a facilitator to direct the session. Allow each person to contribute to ideation, and keep discussions engaging and on track. Agree together what some potential next steps are, and talk to your manager or human resources (HR) department about them.
It’s important to remember that getting the help you need to overcome the effects of burnout is not just directed at your employer. It is just as important to take personal steps which ensure that as you continue through this pandemic and beyond, you maintain your health and happiness.
Some areas you must consider can include:
It can be easy when the source of your burnout is caused by work to neglect the role that your family can play in your mitigation and recovery. Reach out to them, and talk to them about the concerns you have and the issues you are having. If childcare is a contributing factor, talk to your partner about how you can help each other shift the pressure here, at least for a short time. Arrange activities together so that you can get out of the house, away from your workspace, and simply relax in each others’ company.
During COVID-19, it is, unfortunately, the case that many families are having to maintain their relationships long-distance. Don’t allow this to keep you isolated from them, and arrange to regularly utilize methods that can keep you emotionally close to your loved ones. This could include scheduling regular video calls, celebrating birthdays together on group conference calls, even sending small gifts, letters, and cards through the mail.
The relentless pace of remote working and home responsibilities can exacerbate the anxiety that can lead to chronic fatigue or burnout. As such, you should set clear boundaries with both your employers and your loved ones. Working from home often gives employers and colleagues license to assume you are always on the clock — this is detrimental to your wellbeing. Communicate the specific hours you are available for work activities, and when you will be taking your breaks. Similarly, let your family know when you need to be dedicated to working and can’t juggle home activities.
Perhaps the most difficult aspect of this is maintaining these boundaries. As someone who likes to help out others, it might be easy for you to let the occasional breach slide. But this can soon descend into chaos. Ask others to respect your boundaries and provide you with some relief from the pressure.
During COVID-19, workplace burnout has become a common feature. Take the time to understand the symptoms, and make time to collaborate with your employer, colleagues, and family on solutions. Importantly, make sure that you put yourself and your well-being first.