Today’s session was all about burnout – we talked about what it is, how it’s different from stress, how to spot the signs, what it feels like, how to prevent it from happening and what we can do better as a company to support our employees. Here are the main takeaways from our session.
What is burnout?
There are lots of different and lengthy definitions, but this simple one made the most sense to us:
What does burnout feel like?
Typical symptoms include:
- headaches and muscle tension
- poor sleep
- feeling overwhelmed and cynical
- feeling frustrated and unfulfilled
- sense of apathy
- feeling irritable
One of things we discussed was how different burnout is to just having a really rubbish day or week. With the latter, you might go home, rant to your partner, go to bed and feel fine in the morning. Whereas with burnout it is prolonged and accumulative – the morning comes around and you feel even worse, it’s a continuous downward spiral.
Burnout will also start to effect other areas of your life, with hopeless and negative thoughts occupying more and more of your headspace. You feel like there is no way out.
One person described it as feeling on a bit of a manic high, trying to control lots of different things at once, spinning plates, dashing thoughts, getting out of control.
Another person said he felt like he was really struggling to prioritise things in his life (education, work etc) and that he knew something had to give so that he could at least focus on something.
What is the difference between stress and burnout?
Not all of us knew this but it was interesting to learn that stress involves ‘too much’ of everything compared to burnout which is all about ‘not enough’. This was a really helpful way of looking at things.
How can we spot the signs in others?
Keeping an eye on our colleagues is so important – and we are best placed to do so given we spend so much time with each other. Signs to look out for are:
- Frequently saying they are tired
- Withdrawing from conversations, lunch, social events
- Cancelling meetings
- Being irritable or snappy
- Being aggressive
- Being unusually hyper
- Becoming cynical
How to prevent burnout?
Alongside the usual advice such as taking time out, exercising, going for a walk, choosing an apple over a chocolate bar and going to bed instead of watching another Netflix episode, people also had this advice:
“Don’t put pressure on yourself to be busy all the time. If you’ve been working your butt off all morning and want to chill out for 10 minutes watching YouTube, don’t feel guilty! Allow yourself some time.”
“Create lists and tick tasks off through the day to give yourself a sense of achievement. Even if it’s stuff like “I didn’t have any negative thoughts today” – that’s a really positive thing so write it down and tick it off!”
“Give yourself easy days – don’t put pressure on yourself to perform at 100 mph every day.”
“Take work off your phone” (nothing bad ever happened when people did this).
Be strict with your work-life balance. I work as best and efficiently as I can for 8 hours a day, but the rest of my time is for me, my family, friends, hobbies etc. And that’s why I’m still at Vertical Leap 8 years down the line.
How’s your work-life balance?
We went round the room and asked people out of 10 how they rated their work-life balance. 80% of the people said 8 or above but a few rated theirs at just 4-6. It was really good to see that most people felt so positive about their work-life balance – however even one person saying 4-6 is one person too many and something we should try to address.
What can we do as a company?
It’s mostly about education and awareness. We don’t need to understand the ins and outs of mental health conditions to be able to support our staff – we just need to listen, ask what we can do to help and make sure people never feel judged or afraid to come forward.
We should definitely help our managers spot the early signs of burnout in their teams (as mentioned above) and also spot signs such as patterns in sick days. But also ask questions such as ‘how is your workload?’ and ‘what can I do to help?’
What can we do as colleagues?
Ask twice. When you see someone in the kitchen and ask how they are, 99% of the time people will respond with “I’m fine thanks, you?” If you think they might be struggling, ask again, “No really, how are you?” If you feel they don’t want to talk that’s absolutely fine, you could always drop them a text that evening just to let them know you’re there for them.
Your mental health is one of the most important things in your life and yet so many people under-prioritise it on a daily basis, not taking time out for themselves, coming in early, working late. I imagine you panic when you’re late for work yes? But, ask yourself, do you feel the same when you’re late going home? Late for you?