There’s no denying the prevalence of burnout among workers in virtually every industry. With increasing regulations, decreasing resources, heightened competition, and a rapidly changing world, we’re often at the helm of a storm-battered ship relying on an exhausted, resentful, overwhelmed, and unhealthy crew to keep us afloat.
Witness the results of the 2008 London-based study in which it was concluded that work stress may be an important determinant of coronary heart disease, ‘mediated through indirect effects on health behaviors and direct effects on neuroendocrine stress pathways.’
Add to this the common but mistaken notion that there’s a direct relationship between activity level and stress. Our unexamined assumption is that burnout is the result of a heavy workload, which leads us to untenable solutions that serve no one.
We take vacations, and return with just as much stress as when we left. We move tasks to the back burner never to bring them forward again. We accomplish less, and still, we’re overwhelmed. Meanwhile, there are others in our organization who work harder and achieve more with no ill effect.
If burnout isn’t a function of activity level, the simple act of diminishing workloads won’t solve it. Nor will vacations. There has to be another way, and luckily, there is. It starts with a more evolved understanding of what burnout is.
Burnout is a feeling, not a fact.
It’s the function of interpretation, self awareness and moment by moment micro-choices. Those who have mastered the ability to choose an empowering interpretation of their situation, who display high levels of self awareness, and who, as a result, choose the most resourceful action each moment based on what they observe about themselves and their environment, are virtually impervious to burnout.
There’s one more strategy necessary to overcome burnout, and that is the ability to dissipate tension.
Our nervous systems and our endocrine systems are designed to effectively provide us the resources for dealing with danger or perceived danger for a finite period of time, followed by a period of reset or recovery. Deprive the human organism of that recovery period, and stress adds up, to deleterious effect.
What’s so frustrating is that we all possess the ability to recover quite quickly, to push the reset button. Yet most of us never learn how. As a result, we move from demand to demand without recovery, gradually intensifying our suffering and diminishing our capacity to work effectively. Is it any wonder that stress is responsible for poor work output, conflict, absenteeism, injury, and illness?
From an anthropological point of view, we might ask ourselves, what has this habit of ignoring our needs for the sake of work wrought? The answer is a generation of human doings rather than human beings, cut off from themselves, unable to observe or regulate their emotions, and doggedly churning ahead until the lack of self awareness and humanity catches up with them, and they implode. Any conscious leader must at some point ask themselves if they want to be complicit in this atrocity, or would rather take on the mission of helping others thrive on life’s battlefields. We can’t ignore reality.
While the masses suffer…and underperform…those who possess mastery over interpretations and self awareness, along with the skill set to dissipate stress quickly, can observe their emotions and their effectiveness in the moment, choose to retreat just long enough to employ that skill, recover, and get back to work.
The skill itself is not only fairly simple, but unlike adding staff or lengthening vacations, it’s virtually free. Once employed on a large scale, performance and morale both improve dramatically.
To dissipate tension, to push the reset button, one need only have the resolve to monitor one’s emotions and the discipline to enter into silence. While this requires practice, it’s not a particularly complicated thing to do. It can be taught in a few minutes, as can the strategy for creating an environment that supports it, with nothing more than the understanding of its importance to your organization.
First, make emotional intelligence a high priority in your company. Teach your team to slow down, self reflect, and recognize their stress level moment by moment.
Then teach them how to achieve silence, knowing that its achievement will quickly release their accumulated stress and increase their endurance along with their positivity and optimism.
Look for other creative ways to create a quiet mind for yourself and your employees. Draw from the current literature on the effect of wonder and awe, or the encouraging research on the effect of humor.
Above all, make a commitment as a leader that you’re responsible not just for the work output of your employees but for their emotional wellbeing. Such a commitment will inform your choices, create a more harmonious workplace, and convey a welcome message to your team that will be rewarded by higher levels of appreciation, engagement, and productivity.
Latest posts by Dr. Steve Taubman
- CAVE GPS: A System for Mindful Leadership - 02/12/2018
- Burnout to Brilliance:Effortlessly Outperform Your Best Year Yet - 01/15/2018
- Creating A Culture Of Mindfulness - 01/03/2018