Chief Executive Insights

LET’S TALK ABOUT BURNOUT

Burnout costs billions of dollars every year to our healthcare system and endangers the wellbeing of thousands–many of whom are women.

In fact, research shows that more than 75% of Australian and New Zealand workers experienced burnout in 2020 which was above the global average.

As women and especially mothers, we often put others before ourselves. It can be subconscious – a natural inclination. It’s an experience I’m all too familiar with.

In 2007 I was the acting general manager of the iconic fashion brand Sportsgirl, and I became the proverbial headless chicken. To say I was ‘busy’ was an understatement. With three children – Macey was just two, Trent nine and Jake ten – an average day was barely contained chaos.

As my role evolved, so too did my busy lifestyle. It involved everything from raising small children, managing the day to day running of a house, interstate travel, to having days packed with meetings, appointments, and leadership decisions.

I describe myself during this period as a Formula 1 race car – one that had not been refuelled, serviced, had its tyres changed or pulled into the pit stop in a very long time. Is it any wonder that I was feeling burnt out? I had just been going and going and going. I knew no boundaries and said ‘yes’ to everything, no matter how full my plate. I wanted to be the perfect wife, mother, friend, sister, and daughter. I put everyone else’s needs before my own including before my health and this took its toll and came at a great cost.

No-one asked me to do all of this, mind you – it was just me. I have always been a people pleaser. My whole childhood was about pleasing my mum and dad and making them proud, and that flowed through to the way I lived my life. Making my boss proud… my kids proud… my husband proud… That’s all that mattered to me. The things about being a people pleaser is

Until I couldn’t do it any longer. I was only 36 years old, but I was utterly burnt out. I hadn’t lost my passion – far from it. I absolutely loved my job and was so proud of what I’d been able to achieve in my career. I just didn’t have anything left in the tank. I had hit a wall… any cliché you can think of, that’s how I felt.

I was very fortunate to be able to take timeout. I took 3 and a half months off and pulled into the pit’s for a well overdue service, refuelled, changed the tyres and had the best lesson in self-care ever. Burnout was a gift in some ways. It taught me that I can only be good to others when I am first good to myself, whether that’s in my role as a mum, leader, friend, or wife.

What I’ve come to learn in the years since is that my problem was a very common one among women.

The thing about burnout or exhaustion is it doesn’t just affect you; it affects everyone around you. You are tired, cranky, emotional, and sometimes even irrational. Your family, friends, and teams around you don’t get the best version of you when you’re in this state.

Burnout happens because you are overwhelmed and exhausted – which is a by-product of an over-packed schedule and always putting others before self. I am sure there are many of you reading along who have experienced burnout previously, or maybe you are on that train to burnout town right now. I wish I knew then what I know now; I wish I’d known the signs that very quickly creep up on you.

Signs of burnout show up in many ways, and we need to recognise these warning bells before we get to a point where burnout takes over. Chronic exhaustion, concentration and memory problems, constant fatigue, irritability and lack of patience, lack of energy, sleep disorders or insomnia.

I also wish I’d understood the importance of self-care and self- preservation, and this is why I want to share my experience and failures. I am passionate about helping other women recognise the signs of burnout before they reach the same dire point I did. I want to empower women to be comfortable with putting themselves first, and to live a life of self-care and self-love.

I also want women to know the importance of boundaries. Boundaries not only help you prioritse your well-being and support a ‘life in balance’ but they also empower you to make healthy choices – emotionally, mentally, physically, and spiritually. Boundaries are about protecting the most important person – you!

Tips for setting boundaries:

  1. Communicate clearly.
  2. Get comfortable saying ‘no’.
  3. Build in technology boundaries.
  4. Prioritise what’s important.

It’s time for all women to embrace self-care, set boundaries and start living life of purpose and fulfilment without burnout.


Written by Colleen Callander.

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Colleen Callander
Colleen Callander, author of Leader By Design (Major Street Publishing $29.95) and former CEO, is a renowned business and leadership coach, keynote speaker, board member and ambassador. She is also the founder of Mentor Me, a platform through which Colleen mentors women from all different walks of life.

Colleen Callander is an opinion columnist for the CEOWORLD magazine. You can follow her on Instagram, Facebook, LinkedIn, or connect with Colleen here.