Your burnout is unique. Your recovery will also be.
That advice comes from Yu Tse Hang, a doctoral student at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business, and Kira Schabram, an assistant professor at the same institution. It’s important not just because burnout seems to be on the rise but also because most commentators play down the individual nature of burnout, since often that has been used to blame the victim, and instead point out the commonalities in organizations and the need for an organizational response.
But often organizational efforts fail and their research suggests that when you’re feeling burned out, the best person to help you recover is probably yourself. In part, that’s because not all burnout is the same. It is a combination of three distinct symptoms: exhaustion, in which mental or physical resources are depleted; cynical detachment, in which social connectedness erodes; and a reduced sense of efficacy, when the value you place in yourself has diminished. “To recover from burnout, you must identify which of these resources has been depleted and take action to replenish those resources,” they write in Harvard Business Review.
When exhaustion is the primary source of burnout, they found that re-energizing acts of self-care were best for recovery, such as a 10-minute meditation session, cooking a nice meal, or taking a nap. But when burnout is owing to cynicism, focusing on yourself may lead you to withdraw further. Instead, being kind to others can help you regain a sense of connectedness and belonging in your community.
As for the third source of burnout – struggling with feelings of inefficacy – their research showed acts focused on bolstering your positive sense of self are the best. “Interestingly, this can mean either self-compassion or compassion for others – the key is simply to accomplish something that will validate your own sense of personal value,” they note.
In addition, they found that you must feel empowered to take control of your own situation rather than dependent on others to solve your malaise. Managers should give employees the space to pursue their own restorative opportunities, providing resources if asked and showing the organization values self-care.
A complication is that even in the most supportive work environment, compassion – for yourself or for others – can be hard to attain. Their research found those who were able to muster the energy to practise compassion, however, showed significant reductions in burnout. “This suggests that compassion is a like a muscle: It can be exhausted, but it can also be trained,” they say.
Naz Beheshti, a former executive assistant to Steve Jobs and now a wellness coach, says oddly the tech zealot who worked long, intense hours taught her belatedly how an individual can control burnout. “Steve was able to sustain his determined focus, clear vision, and exceptional creativity precisely because he was so disciplined about tending to his self-care,” she writes at TLNT.com. “He took the time to feed his fire. He had a meditation practice, exercised regularly, nourished his body and mind, had a loving family, and maintained a deep sense of purpose while building Apple.”
But she stresses that as attentive as he was to his own well-being, he was inattentive to the well-being of his people. Her hair even started to fall out as she dealt with the stress he created through his continual demands. She kept up with his breakneck pace by snacking on cups of Hershey’s Kisses, while ironically bringing fresh, organic meals to her boss. She sacrificed her yoga practice and time with loved ones, and neared burnout.
Many of the leaders she counsels fall for the myth that excellence requires an obsessive drive that sacrifices health and well-being. She knows from Mr. Jobs that it doesn’t have to be that way.
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Sales consultant Colleen Francis urges you to keep a sharp eye on the metric of number of days that prospects are sitting in your pipeline. Other measures, like average deal size and average number of deals, are not changing recently but the number of days in the pipeline is growing substantially.
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