Commentary

June 7, 2013

Avoiding burn out on the job

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Capt. Julia Vanover
Eglin AFB, Fla.

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Feeling overwhelmed, weary, or even beyond caring about work anymore?

Burn out is a common problem with severe outcomes if not addressed. We can rapidly get stuck and accept misery. We’ll think, “What good will happen even if I try”. Many leaders are unaware of the immense impact burn out has on employees and the impact on production.

Rates of absenteeism and presenteeism (being at work, but not really working) increase and health care costs jump. Remember, burn out is different than extreme stress.

During severe stress, we feel overwhelmed and we look forward to things changing for the better, because we trust we will recover. When burned out, we may no longer care because we don’t believe anything can improve. We detach from our emotions and stop trying to improve our life or work. We may become difficult to work with, difficult to be in a relationship with, and despondent.

We can address burnout by an intense change in priorities. Employers are wise to create a supportive environment where employees are encouraged rather than discouraged. Those employers are amply rewarded, as research shows a savings in health care costs of 20 to 60 percent. Plus, substantial decreases in absenteeism and presenteeism. Productivity increases and everyone benefits.

To recover from burn out:

  • Cut back on activities. Only do what is absolutely necessary from positions of responsibility (as much as possible).†
  • Do nothing as much as possible when not at work. Rest, rest, rest. Sleep, eat, veg – that’s it.
  • Be honest and tell someone (who is supportive). Talk with a good friend or a professional. You need the support and clarity of thought a kind person will bring.†
  • Protect your surroundings by spending time with relaxing people only (or as much as possible).†
  • Journaling and rekindling humor helps immensely. Yoga, meditation, and mindfulness-training rapidly decreases burn out.

To prevent burn out:

  • Start the day gently. For example, sit up when you wake up, place your feet gently on the floor and practice steady relaxed breathing with a mantra , prayer or gratitude statement for a few minutes.
  • Frequency of renewing activities are better than quality – a few minutes of a daily activity is more effective than a monthly event: It’s important to experiment with a variety of self-care activities to discover the most effective. Every individual is different.
  • Eat healthy, exercise, get quality sleep. Prioritize this in your schedule. Get your co-workers and supervisor on board.†
  • Limit commitments and activities. Actively protect yourself from overextending yourself.
  • Plan down time, frequently. If your mindset is that you are lazy when you have downtime, rewrite those draining, judgmental, non-productive thoughts. Downtime makes you sharper and more generous. Resentful feelings occur when we overextend, we are kinder and more fair when we don’t.
  • Do creative activities. Ignoring our creativity is the fast road to depression. Small creative doodling or writing does wonders, no need for huge projects – which can be counterproductive to reducing stress.
  • Accept truly supportive people in your life and spend time fostering those relationships. Avoid trying to make people supportive when they are not. Instead focus your energy on enhancing already supportive relationships or seeking them.

Leaders who are concerned about burn out in their employees, are recommended to:

  • Encourage enjoyable learning. Smart people need to be creative. Learn to look at your jobsite with an eye for flexibility to keep people interested.
  • Allow convenient avenues for people to renew on site or near work. Communicate consistently that effective self-care is a needed skill to accomplish any mission.
  • Model giving support when correcting behaviors. A culture of constant correction and accusatory questioning will kill morale. People will feel disconnected and cautious, may even avoid work. Give people a safe, supportive environment and they will want to improve productivity and be sincerely dedicated to you.
  • Be on the lookout for a culture of “high expectations” in which people avoid getting help to prevent appearing less than stellar at work (i.e., your perfectionists are at risk). Manage your verbal workers by paying attention to your quiet ones. Acknowledge/appreciate both styles. Your staff will be more in balance and at ease with one another, they will also appreciate each other’s differences.
  • Model good self-care.
  • Improve your listening skills. Keeping yourself calm and focused while listening is an important skill with many rewards.



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