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Do any of these sound familiar to you?


  • You're in a room and the walls are closing in. The pressure is mounting, the air feels thick, and the exit seems just out of reach.

  • You were a once-bright flame, but are now slowly flickering and fading. What started as a roaring fire of passion and energy is now a weak, struggling ember, barely clinging to life.

  • You're a plant that has been deprived of sunlight and water. Your leaves, once green and thriving, are now wilted and brown. Your stem droops under its own weight, and the soil under you is dry and cracked.

  • You're walking through a dense, heavy fog that obscures everything around you. The path ahead is hidden, and every step feels uncertain and sluggish. You're enveloped in a persistent haze that makes it hard to see clearly, think sharply, or move forward with confidence.

  • You're a sturdy brick wall that has stood the test of time and is now showing signs of severe wear and tear. Your bricks are cracking, pieces are falling off, and the structure is weakening. You were once solid and dependable, but are now breaking down under the pressure, with pieces of yourself falling away bit by bit.


For some people, these descriptions are what burnout feels like. Maybe you've already experienced it, that overwhelming sense of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. It’s a state that doesn’t just whisper for rest; it screams for a change. But here’s the good news: burnout isn’t the end. It’s a signal – a powerful one – that it’s time to reclaim your energy, purpose, and joy.


A burnt out house with the words, "Burnout – that overwhelming sense of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. It’s a state that doesn’t just whisper for rest; it screams for a change. But here’s the good news: burnout isn’t the end. It’s a signal – a powerful one – that it’s time to reclaim your energy, purpose, and joy."

How to cope with Burnout: Practical Tips


1. Acknowledge your feelings - Recognize that burnout is real and valid. It’s okay to feel overwhelmed and to need a break. Allow yourself the grace to acknowledge these feelings. There is nothing wrong with you and you are not at fault.


2. Where you can, set boundaries - Take steps to protect your time and energy. It's not always possible to safely set boundaries, so consider your personal situation and figure out where you have agency, then start to practice saying no. If you struggle with feelings of guilt, work on letting go of it. Where possible, reduce time spent on activities or with people that drain your energy. This might include cutting down on social media use or limiting interactions with toxic individuals.


3. Seek support - Connect with others who understand your experiences. Whether it’s a support group, coach, trusted friends, or a mentor, having a network can provide emotional relief, support, and practical advice. If you're suffering from emotional exhaustion because of difficult clients, interpersonal conflicts, or high-pressure environments, consider taking advantage of mental health resources. Therapy can provide a safe space to explore your feelings, identify coping strategies, and develop a plan to overcome burnout.


4. Prioritize self-care - Engage in activities that recharge you. Review your work activities and map which are energy sapping versus energy recharging, then try to balance your days with a little of each, if possible. Step away from work to read a book, take a walk, or engage in a hobby. If available to you, use vacation days, leverage EAP (employee assistance program) resources, or ask for flexible working conditions. Incorporate mindfulness practices into your daily routine. Techniques like deep breathing, meditation, or journaling can help you stay grounded and manage stress more effectively. Remember, self-care isn’t selfish; it’s essential.


5. Reassess your goals - Take a step back and evaluate your goals. Are they realistic? Do they align with your values and passions? Sometimes, burnout stems from pursuing goals that don't serve you. If your stress is being exacerbated by a heavy workload, prioritize projects and tasks based on urgency and importance. Pair up and work with a partner if possible.


6. Advocate for yourself - If it's safe and fits your situation, speak up about your needs, both at work or in other environments. Request accommodations or changes that can help alleviate some of the stressors contributing to your burnout. Advocate for more staffing when needed and if that's not possible, for adjusting metrics, goals, and expectations to accommodate a reasonable workload. If you're feeling a lack of autonomy, disempowered by rigid policies, micromanagement, or a lack of input in decision-making, talk with your leaders and HR. If those attempts fall flat and you don't see alternatives, consider a role, company, or career change.


Burnout is a challenging experience and also a call to action, an invitation to reassess, realign, and rejuvenate. It's not easy, but your journey through burnout can lead you to a place of renewed strength and purpose. Embrace the process, lean on your community, and remember that you have the power to rise from the ashes, more resilient and vibrant than ever before.



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Here's this week's Friday journal reflection prompt: Consider the intersection of values-washing and burnout in your life. Reflect on how inauthentic messages contribute to feelings of disillusionment and exhaustion. How does the discrepancy between stated values and actual behaviors impact your sense of purpose and fulfillment? Reflect on strategies you employ to preserve your mental and emotional well-being amidst the prevalence of values-washing. How do you maintain alignment with your own values and mitigate the risk of burnout in a world saturated with disingenuous messaging?


Journaling prompts can help you set aside dedicated time in your routine for reflection. If Fridays don't work for you, save it for a different day, depending on your preference and availability.


A pile of burning embers with the text, "Reflect on how inauthentic messages contribute to feelings of disillusionment and exhaustion. How does the discrepancy between stated values and actual behaviors impact your sense of purpose and fulfillment? Reflect on strategies you employ to preserve your mental and emotional well-being amidst the prevalence of values-washing. How do you maintain alignment with your own values and mitigate the risk of burnout in a world saturated with disingenuous messaging?"

Not sure how to get started with a journaling prompt?


First, find a quiet and comfortable space where you can focus without distractions. Approach your journaling with honesty and authenticity. Be open to acknowledging your strengths and weaknesses. By embracing vulnerability, it can lead to significant growth and development.


Want to take it a step further? Based on your reflections, identify areas for improvement and set actionable goals for growth. These goals should enable you to track your progress over time. Periodically review past journal entries to track your growth and identify recurring patterns or themes. Reflecting on your progress allows you to celebrate successes and learn from challenges.


Reflective journaling can be a powerful tool for self-improvement and skill development. Come along on this journey and share your thoughts below!

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Patient: Doctor, it hurts when I lift my arm.

Doctor: Ok, stop lifting your arm. See me again in 90 days to discuss progress.


Burnout as a concept has been around for half a century and describes the physical and emotional exhaustion you feel when working in high-stress environments. It's also likely that you are familiar with burnout and have heard about it many times. You probably already know that people with burnout have less job satisfaction and motivation, often resulting in reduced performance. You're probably aware that burnout leads to increased absenteeism and turnover, which in turn lead to higher recruitment and training costs for organizations. You've probably seen the impact of burnout and how it can contribute to workplace conflicts and decreased team cohesion.


An image of an unlit match with the words, "What we measure is what we optimize and incentivize for. If productivity and results are what matter, even over employee health, stop creating cognitive dissonance for employees with virtuous signaling about values that aren't consistently upheld or are likely to be sacrificed for profit. Your intentions don't matter, your impact does."

So if everyone knows how burnout hurts peoples' well-being and organizations' productivity, if the root causes of burnout are understood, if coping mechanisms exist like leveraging PTO, mental healthcare benefits, and flexible scheduling, then why does it keep happening to people?


Is it possible that we are addressing the symptoms of burnout and helping people recover without addressing the root cause, effectively setting up a never-ending cycle where people phase in and out of burnout?


I've observed two commonly held beliefs that I hypothesize are leading us to this reactive state. One belief is that burnout is caused by an individual's reactions to situations, putting the responsibility on the person to remedy the situation. The other belief is that it is either too difficult or undesirable to significantly change or reject the broader conditions that lead to burnout because of external constraints, the pace of life, capitalism, blah blah, insert your reason here.


As a result, many companies don't address it systemically and put the impetus for (re)action onto managers and individuals. That's not to say that there aren't compassionate and caring folks in leadership at these companies. They invest time and resources to provide coping mechanisms and guidance, but ultimately the risk of burnout is accepted as part of the cost of doing business.

 

At the individual level, employees may be encouraged to participate in stress management programs, resilience and leadership training, and workshops on work-life balance. These initiatives can equip employees with skills and resources needed to recognize and cope with job-related stressors effectively. Again, this assumes that environments where burnout can flourish is an accepted status quo and it's up to each of us to heighten our own awareness of the symptoms and build the muscles to just deal with it.


It's not that companies aren't trying. At the org-level, interventions often focus on improving workplace culture, policies, and practices to create a supportive and conducive environment for employee well-being. The problem is that these are rarely enforced in a data-driven, consistent way and are often undermined by high-level expectations driving performance, productivity, and profit.


In practice, this often looks like providing managers with training and then expecting them to reduce the factors that lead to employee burnout while simultaneously driving outcomes towards incentivized department or org-level goals that are exacerbating burnout. It's ridiculous and a great way to burn out managers.


So, what's to be done? This is something that needs to start at the top and trickle down. That looks like leading with goals, metrics, and expectations that encourage not only business value, but also align with internal company values. Yeah, I know, everyone thinks they're doing that already and that's often the problem.


What we measure is what we optimize and incentivize for, so it's critical to invest time with first principles thinking and align each metric and goal to what really matters to the business. For some companies, that will mean adjusting goals and metrics, resetting expectations and adjusting actions to match messaging.


Other companies may realize that productivity and results are what matter, even over employee health, and they should stop creating cognitive dissonance for employees with virtuous signaling about values that aren't consistently upheld or are likely to be sacrificed for profit. Because the message we give individuals applies to businesses as well: your intentions aren't what matters, your impact is.


For that latter group, it's ok. A company can still be mission-driven and do good work for customers, communities, and shareholders without values-washed messaging. Lots of skilled people will continue to work for these companies, because they believe in what the company is doing broadly or because of other motivating reasons. The key difference is that they'll have a clearer idea of what they're getting into and will be better equipped to show up with the appropriate coping mechanisms to care for their physical, mental, and emotional health while delivering the business outcomes these companies are looking for.


Values-washing, without genuine and consistent commitment, is insidious. It's rarely intentional, but it still deceives people, undermines trust, dilutes genuine action, and perpetuates cynicism and burnout. Ultimately, it commodifies principles, turning something meaningful into a recruitment or marketing tool. If that sounds gross to you, take a deep look at what you're incentivizing as a leader and then take action.


If you're a worker in an environment that's conducive to burnout and are looking for coping mechanisms, we'll talk about those tactics next week.



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