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The Path to Recovery From Burnout

I've been leveled by burnout a few times in my career. It's happened when I've been in roles I loved and roles I loathed, when I've been at companies I was passionate about and when it's been clear I was no longer invested, and both when I've had supportive leaders and haven't.

The truth is that burnout can happen even when you love your job, your leadership, and your company. It can happen even when you think you're doing everything "right". Applying judgement to the factors surrounding your burnout or to your experience with burnout doesn't serve you and won't help you avoid it or recover any faster. The best thing you can do is to give yourself grace and make space to be curious about what you're feeling, what contributes to burnout for you, and try to accept that your journey back from burnout is going to happen at a pace that works for you, not for somebody else.

The truth is that burnout can happen even when you love your job, your leadership, and your company.

To get started, let's delve deeper into the complexities of burnout. The path to burnout recovery isn't linear and can be challenging at times. Understanding your unique experience can be helpful in identifying the factors that contribute to your burnout in order to avoid and mitigate them in the future.

Here are a few types of burnout, told through the stories of different folks and how they managed it. You may find that more than one of these resonates with you, which means you potentially have more vulnerability to burnout, but also more options you can explore to maintain a healthy state.

Identity-Driven Burnout

Carlos, a senior manager at Get It Done Company, strongly associated his self-worth with his work. He threw himself into his job, often taking on excessive responsibilities and sacrificing personal time, since work was where he felt valued and capable. Despite complaining about the workload, Carlos continued to overcommit because his self-perceived worth was entangled with his work. Years ago when he'd been laid off, Carlos had really struggled with his intrinsic sense of purpose and meaning although that had quieted once he found a new role and threw himself back into his work.

Management strategies for Carlos:

  • Reevaluate priorities: Reflect on your values and interests outside of work. Explore activities that bring you joy and fulfillment.

  • Set boundaries: Establish clear boundaries between work and personal life. Ensure you have time to relax and recharge.

  • Seek Support: Consider talking to a career coach or therapist to help you explore your identity beyond your professional role.

In-The-Moment Pleaser Burnout

Ayesha, a customer service representative at Do All The Things LLC, found herself burnt out because she struggled to say 'no' in the moment, mainly because she got immediate gratification from pleasing others. While she enjoyed the feelings of acceptance and gratitude she received, she often regretted it afterward because the excessive workload lead to overwhelm and exhaustion. Ayesha had also started to feel taken advantage of and overlooked during promotion time, since the bulk of her effort was spent on tasks that weren't considered "promotion worthy".

Management strategies for Ayesha:

  • Practice saying 'no': Start by saying 'no' to small requests. One way to do that is to frame things as "I could do x, but I'd have to give up doing y in order to make space for that to happen." Gradually build confidence in setting limits.

  • Reflect before agreeing: Take a moment to consider whether you genuinely want to take on a new task, whether you have the capacity to do so before committing, whether you are the right person to take that task on, and how that task aligns with broader company, team, and personal goals.

  • Prioritize self-care: Remember that taking care of yourself is essential. You are your own best advocate and you can’t pour from an empty cup. Identify and name specific activities that recharge your battery and incorporate those into your routine consistently.

Helper Burnout

Jae, a nurse at We Take Care of You Healthcare Systems, felt compelled to say "yes" due to a deep-seated desire to help others. While altruistic, this led to an inability to disappoint others, even when it was necessary for his own well-being. Jae had already been let go from another healthcare company a couple of years ago after multiple conversations with his manager over his "excessive use" of "unlimited" sick days after he became physically unwell by overextending himself to help others. Understanding the true costs and benefits of agreeing to help was crucial for managing his burnout.

Management strategies for Jae:

  • Evaluate requests: Assess the impact of saying "yes" on your time and energy. Weigh the benefits against the potential for burnout and choose where to spend your time and energy with thoughtfulness and intention.

  • Develop boundaries: Learn to set boundaries with others while maintaining your desire to help. That might involve working with a therapist or coach on understanding and aligning with your values to remove any dissonance you're feeling.

  • Seek balance: Find a balance between helping others and taking care of your own needs. Create a persona for yourself and treat that persona like you would someone you find it easy to take care of, so you're giving yourself the attention you give others.

Escapist Burnout

Sarah, a marketing executive at Big Wins Inc, used work as a distraction from larger issues in her personal life. She filled her schedule with work to avoid facing those personal challenges and the accompanying emotions, finding it difficult to slow down or take breaks. Weekends and holidays were particularly challenging for Sarah, as they deprived her of her productive distraction. Although Sarah thought of herself as a good leader, she didn't realize how much of an impact her weekend emails, late night texts, and early morning meeting requests were contributing to feelings of burnout for her team, as well.

Management strategies for Sarah:

  • Face your underlying issues: Identify and address the personal challenges you are avoiding. Seek professional help if needed.

  • Create a healthy routine: Incorporate regular breaks, exercise, and relaxation into your daily schedule. Use scheduled send options for communication outside of agreed work hours or set explicit expectations (with reward systems and consistent accountability) that allows folks to ignore communications outside of agreed work hours (even if those hours are flexible).

  • Embrace downtime: Learn to appreciate and use downtime in ways that are effective for you to experience rest and personal growth.

Fear-Driven Burnout

Michel, a freelance consultant, took on excessive work out of fear of missing out on future opportunities or experiencing financial insecurity. They felt compelled to accept every opportunity that came their way, fearing the possibility of regret if they said 'no.' Their family growing up was financially unstable and Michel often felt housing and food insecurity in their teen years. As an adult, that (possibly) outdated narrative was contributing to a fear-driven mentality, which resulted in chronic stress and burnout.

Management strategies for Michel:

  • Assess opportunities: Evaluate each opportunity carefully to determine its true value and impact on your well-being.

  • Financial planning: Develop a financial plan that provides security and reduces anxiety about future uncertainties.

  • Practice gratitude: Instead of catastrophizing which only feeds your anxiety, focus on the positives in your current situation to alleviate fear-driven decisions. Gratitude journaling can help to reframe a challenging situation and rewire your internal mental models over time. This isn't the same as toxic positivity, but more about learning to move towards a desired goal instead of away from a fear.

These are just some of the different causes of burnout, which highlight the complex interplay between your mindset and the external pressures you might be experiencing. While each type of burnout presents its own challenges, understanding the underlying causes is essential for finding effective support and recovering.

We're all doing the best we can, so giving yourself compassion along the way is crucial in your journey to regain balance and well-being in your life. If you'd like the help of a coach, reach out today to schedule a complimentary consultation.

Note: These personas are intended to be a helpful starting point and should not be considered medical advice. It's up to you to decide what is in your own best interest.


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