#WorkTrends: How to Beat Burnout

Leadership and executive coach Beth Benatti Kennedy coaches many of her clients through their own experiences with burnout. It’s something she knows about firsthand. While working as a counselor in Boston public schools, she realized that she was becoming burnt out — even though she was working what she considered her “dream job.”

To combat that burnout, Kennedy enrolled in the Mind-Body Stress Reduction program at the UMass Medical Center, and two years later she started her executive coaching business. Now, she’s the author of “Career Recharge: Five Strategies to Boost Resilience and Beat Burnout,” and she joins us today to discuss the issue of burnout in the workplace. Her actionable insights are something we can all put to use, even if we just have a case of the hump day blues.

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The Burnout Escalator

Over the past few years, we’ve seen increasing awareness around issues of mental health. But it also seems that burnout in the workplace is becoming more of a factor than ever before. Are we just more aware of it, or is burnout actually becoming more of an issue?

Kennedy says that she believes burnout is becoming more common. The biggest reason for this is the way that technology has fundamentally altered the way we communicate. “We’re all so connected that I call it going up the burnout escalator,” Kennedy explains. Our reliance on technology creates stressors that, over time, contribute greatly to burnout.

Kennedy uses a text message as an example. A client requested five minutes of her time to discuss something. Kennedy really did not have the time in the day, but at the same time, she asked herself, “How can I not get back to this text message?”

The other factor Kennedy attributes to the higher rate of burnout is how focused people can be on their careers. She often points out to her clients that they don’t take vacations — and that they take their work a bit too seriously. That isn’t to say that we should be practicing our open mic night routines in the breakroom, but it does mean to remember to bring some levity and perspective to the office.

The Friday Five

If you’re feeling a bit burnt out yourself, there are steps you can take to combat it. According to Kennedy, the key is to effectively attack your symptoms is to begin before they begin to affect your mental health. Once burnout affects your mental health — what Kennedy denotes as “stage five” — addressing the issue becomes much more complicated.

Kennedy coaches her clients through small, actionable steps that make addressing burnout seem like … well, less of something that might burn you out. Every Friday, Kennedy’s clients do what she calls the “Friday Five.” They spend five minutes with Kennedy assessing and reflecting on five core aspects of their lives: well-being, self-awareness, brand, connection and innovation. The goal is not to set gigantic goals, but small incremental steps that can be improved upon week by week. “That’s how we make impact,” Kennedy says. “The problem of some of us just set these huge, lofty goals that are ridiculous.”

These are things you can address with yourself. While some are fairly self-evident, perhaps “brand” is not. But this is simple. It’s not about promoting yourself, but rather about figuring out the best way to make an impact on a weekly basis. Essentially, you are asking yourself what you accomplished that week, with the knowledge that the more effective you are in your position, the better your reputation will be.

What Employers and Managers Can Do

Preventing burnout is not solely the responsibility of individual employees. Employers and managers also need to take preventive measures to best serve their employees, and some more progressive organizations are already beginning to do this.

Kennedy believes that organizations must create an environment that gives employees ownership in decision-making toward their well-being. Kennedy uses the example of telecommuting. For some, working at home two days a week can improve their well-being.

But the empowerment goes beyond choosing where you work. It also means creating a dialogue regarding career decisions. Many businesses have a year-end review with their employees. Kennedy believes checking in so infrequently with employees has a negative effect on morale. She believes the conversation should happen as often as every other month. Talk through career fit, what projects are using an employee’s strengths, and which projects they are struggling with.

But most importantly, use these meetings as a chance to show your employees the ownership they need to have. “Sometimes we feel like the managers need to be the fixer-upper on everything,” she says. “I think as employees we need to be proactive for our own career.”

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