21 Jun 2021

Are we there yet?

Can we just write this year off and start again in January 2021?

This seems to be a common statement I’m hearing from a lot of business owners and employees recently!  Predominantly it comes after I’ve asked how they’re doing and how they’ve managed during Covid. As a nation we are tired – feeling battered and a bit bruised and generally looking forward to a holiday. Many employers have told me that work and home life stressors are causing burnout and overall levels of resilience are low.

So how do we get through this last two months of the year before many of us can switch off from our working lives? The term burnout comes to mind for many people I’m talking with daily. What causes burnout though? It’s not a simply a result of working long hours or juggling too many tasks, though those both play a role. Depression, cynicism and lethargy are characteristics of burnout and they most often occur when a person is not in control of how a job is carried out – either at work or at home –  or is asked to complete tasks that conflict with their values or their beliefs. Similarly, burnout comes from lack of support from others or when an individual is working towards goals they don’t support or don’t understand.   

Is burnout different from stress? By definition, burnout is an extended period of stress (aka 2020!) that feels like it can’t be tolerated any longer.  If stress is short lived or tied to a specific goal, it is most likely not harmful.  If the stress feels never ending and comes with feeling of emptiness, apathy, and hopelessness, it may be indicative of burnout.

How do we spot burnout?   Firstly, it’s important to understand that most employees who suffer from burnout are likely to remain at work. Being aware of changes in attitudes and energy can help with early identification. Employees may not actually realise they are dealing with burnout and may instead believe they are struggling to keep us during stressful times (again 2020!!). Some of the signs and symptoms that an employee experiencing burnout exhibit include reduced efficiency and energy, lowered levels of motivation, increased errors, fatigue, headaches, irritability, increased frustration, suspiciousness, and more time spent working with less being accomplished.  Severe burnout can also result in self-medication with alcohol and other substances, sarcasm and negativity, debilitating self-doubt.

Prevention is better than cure! So, before burnout kicks in, what can we do as employers to help? There are oodles of great resources online that I’d encourage you to check out – the Mental Health Foundation is a great place to start. Here’s an easy to read guide you mind find helpful but there are also plenty of other free resources out there: https://www.mentalhealth.org.nz/assets/Working-Well/WS-tank-on-empty.pdf.

The key message I want to leave you is that burnout and stress is real. It’s even more prominent this year than it has ever been for many of our working lives. Take time to talk with your employees, check in that they are OK.  Look for the warning signs from above that they may be exhibiting. Encourage people to take some short breaks leading up to Christmas.  Sit down and really listen to your team and make sure you are looking after yourself as well as you do others. And when you’re stuck and don’t know what to do next, please just ask for help. Kia kaha.