Professional women commonly struggle with juggling what seems like a never ending list of competing priorities. The resulting exhaustion and frustration is discouraging and can lead to burnout if left unchecked. The COVID-19 pandemic has added additional fuel to the burnout fire, affecting every aspect of our lives. For some, the pandemic is threatening our career trajectory, or has already. But navigating a career alongside motherhood, relationships, friendships, caregiving and life does not need to be draining.
Our recent virtual event Charge your battery: Strategies for preventing and managing burnout was a practical session to explore the drivers of burnout and identify personalized strategies to support energy and engagement.
Over 60 Women Who Lead members joined Dr. Julia Moore and Elizabeth Scarlett virtually for this interactive ninety minute session. By the end, participants were able to recognize the drivers of burnout, place themselves on the burnout spectrum, understand the interplay between values and burnout and identify individualized strategies to move forward effectively in pursuit of their goals.
What is burnout?
It is important to understand what burnout actually is (and is not). Burnout is talked about a lot, but content often misses the mark. Burnout is not about working too many hours, a stressful job, nor is it linked to personality. Rather, burnout is a state or condition that someone can fall into. Burnout is about both mindset and the system a person is working within. Unfortunately, our systems are set up in a way that many of us can fall into burnout. By understanding what burnout actually is, we can avoid the mistake that many people make of jumping to solutions without really understanding the problem.
Drivers of burnout: The Burnout Hexagon
Next, it is crucial to understand the drivers of burnout. Burnout is caused by a disconnect between your values and how you spend your time. Dr. Julia Moore and Elizabeth Scarlett offer a resource via the Behavioural Elevation Academy to help you identify your values: http://behaviorelevationacademy.com/values
To understand and describe burnout, there are three burnout spectrums. These form the Burnout Hexagon. The spectrums are Energy to Exhaustion, Involvement to Cynicism, and Efficacy to Inefficacy.
The Energy to Exhaustion is the emotional aspect of burnout. This is typically what we think of when we refer to burnout (and how we identify it). Exhaustion can sometimes be identified through trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, feeling overwhelmed/ like you can’t keep up with work, or not having enough energy for people or tasks. Exhaustion is easier to spot but also the easiest to ignore.
The Involvement to Cynicism spectrum is the mental aspect of burnout. This can include feeling disconnected, detached or negative. It can also include feeling angry and/or irritable at colleagues or family members.
The Efficacy to Inefficacy spectrum is the behavioural aspect of burnout. It is about answering the key question ‘Do you feel productive?’. It is still centered in how you feel – the perception of productivity – as opposed to being objectively productive according to some external metric.
It’s important to pay attention to these burnout warning signs. Burnout can present in different ways in different people. A person may have symptoms of burnout in only one side of the spectrum, or in multiple. Even if someone is only having symptoms in one, it can still suggest they are experiencing burnout.
By doing a self-assessment and understanding where you fall on the spectrum(remember – Energy to Exhaustion, Involvement to Cynicism, and Efficacy to Inefficacy), it’s easier to identify to the appropriate strategies to promote energy, engagement, and effective burnout mitigation. It is important to question “where is my energy going?” and how this relates to core values.
Strategies for managing burnout
Burnout boils down to energy: where is it going, where are we getting it from, and do we have enough of it to do what we want to do. Once we know where on the burnout spectrum we are losing energy, we can use strategies to not only address burnout, but also proactively get off the path to burnout.
Strategies to boost energy include escaping the moment through a healthy and intentional distraction as well as mapping your personal energy: What brings energy? What depletes? What requires an energy investment, including activities that provide an ‘energy kickback’ – activities that use but also give energy (i.e., exercise).
Strategies to boost involvement include self-soothing by enjoying the moment, and completing a writing exercise. For example, when you need to vent, open a blank document on your computer, change your font to a symbol font, write what you need to then delete it and let it go.
Strategies to improve efficacy include grounding: be in the moment through counting, breathing and mindfulness activities. It is important to be both proactive and reactive with grounding. Try turning “what if?” into “even if?” This helps you notice if you are in the anxiety spiral and sets you up for successfully viewing your resilience.