The global pandemic tribulations started as a sprint and have turned into a marathon of continuous hardships most humans are managing. However, there is a new crisis in town, and it is knocking on our doors going into 2021 – burnout. 

Everyone is feeling overwhelmed physically and mentally, even people that typically enjoy their jobs. A recent Gallup study with approximately 7,500 full-time worker participants indicated that 23 percent of people feel burned out at work either very often or always. At this rate, companies are deeming it as a full-blown employee burnout crisis.

Although people cannot control the unexpected changes in the world or poor leadership tactics, they control their emotions and develop coping strategies to help prevent burnout. 

To conquer burnout, people need to tap into their emotional intelligence skills and develop a deeper understanding of what triggers them. Then, they need to create boundaries around those triggers and work through cognitive strategies to manage stress and anxiety more effectively.

What is Burnout?

The misconception with burnout is that the employee is disengaged – they will start to withdraw, slow down their work, and lose focus. However, burnout is when an employee is overly engaged in their work, but emotionally overloaded with no support to maintain their work and personal emotional well-being. 

Burnout is a real phenomenon that people overlook as stress. However, last year, the World Health Organization even added the syndrome to its International Classification of Diseases. The level of exhaustion that humans exhibit during burnout can have highly adverse effects. People grow to resent their employers, leave the company, and sometimes even bring their colleagues down with them.

The 2020 Employee Care report identified that 75 percent of employees had experienced burnout at work. Now, add a global pandemic into the mix with COVID-19 fatigue, low-social interaction, and financial struggles; burnout is not merely a phenomenon but a crisis that people are enduring at a higher rate than ever before. 

However, people must focus on what they can control during the burnout crisis and dive into the specific reasons why burnout is creeping in. 

Below are, but not limited to, signs of burnout that have been frequently identified.

Signs of Burnout

The shift to virtual work has created fewer and fewer boundaries between work and home.  As a result, people are struggling to manage their work versus home stressors and identify their early burnout cues before they manifest further. People are working harder than ever since there is no definite end to the workday, and merely closing a laptop just isn’t cutting it anymore. 

Going into 2021, people must start identifying their burnout triggers and monitor their level of fatigue, irritability, and stress levels. Everyone is different in how burnout arises, but some significant signs of burnout published by Psychology Today are as follows.

Chronic fatigue 

Insomnia

Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and focus

Increased illness

Loss of appetite

Depression

Anger

Are any of the symptoms on the list feeling familiar?  If the answer is yes, it is likely time to acknowledge those feelings. Before, the burnout morphs into an ailment that affects not only your work life but all aspects of functioning, including other serious health issues. 

Emotional intelligence can help people better manage their burnout or prevent it from becoming a mammoth challenge in their lives. Still, if the feelings of burnout have already started to take over, it may be worthwhile to explore professional mental health support.

How to Manage Stress outlines more visually what different types of stress or burnout can look like. It is important to take note of the visual stress and burnout cues so you can acknowledge it and be self-aware when it occurs.  

How to Prevent Personal Burnout 

Many external factors contribute to burnout – a superior that doesn’t care, an overwhelming workload with no support and the list goes on. However, the one thing people do have control over is how they can manage those external factors. 

Managing and understanding emotions is the fundamental essence behind emotional intelligence. Practicing burnout prevention consists of three key steps – a mindset change, emotional management, and investing energy in the right places. 

Mindset Change 

How people think about the challenges and pressures that come with burnout can determine how they handle them. It is okay to acknowledge burnout. In fact, that can help you better identify the triggers and build a more positive mental strategy around coping. 

Instead of saying to yourself, “I am burnt out,” rephrase it as a positive statement like “I am overcoming my burnout by ____.” Although people cannot change the deadline of a project or the working hours of the day, people are in control of their optimism and a positive mindset.  

Martin Seligman, author of Learned Optimism,  spent twenty years of clinical research to demonstrate how optimism enhances the quality of life, and how anyone can learn to practice it. Research has proven that more optimistic people are healthier, more motivated, and have better career success.

Emotional Management

Emotional management and awareness are essential in preventing burnout. It stems from identifying the signs of burnout early and developing different strategies to cope with the stress before reaching an irreversible level of exhaustion. 

A good start in managing your emotions during times of stress is emotional self-awareness, identifying the stage of stress you are experiencing. When people label their emotions and stress effectively, they will respond to it in constructive ways. The five stages of stress are alarm, resistance, coping, adaption, then burnout. 

When a potentially stressful situation occurs, our bodies create a chemical reaction, releasing adrenaline and cortisol hormones.  This acute stress reaction happens during the alarm stage, more widely known as the fight-or-flight response. 

The next phase is resistance. This stage allows people to recover from the initial stress by bringing in coping mechanisms. After resistance has been overturned, people enter a state of coping, whether it is taking a break, exercising, sleeping, etc.  This is arguably the most critical stage to help prevent burnout. 

Then, there is the adaptation stage – what happens when you don’t take time to recover. If the stress is ignored and our emotional awareness fails, people adapt to their heightened stress levels which eventually turns into burnout. 

Energy

People can also focus on where they are putting their energy to balance out the feelings of burnout. People need to balance their body, mind and human spirit, instead of managing their time . At work, sometimes people put their heads down and work themselves beyond their limits. Managing energy, helps people better understand their limits, which assists in prioritizing tasks and workload management. 

Taking on more than our energy can handle is a sure way to experience feelings of burnout. It is essential to know your limit and to do frequent self check-ins. Once people can learn to check-in with themselves, it allows them to prioritize better and learn to say “no” when their plate is full. 

It can be as simple as asking, “am I overexerting my energy at work”? If yes, then it is time to manage your energy at work with strategies and ask for support when and where needed. 

Ask for Support

The beginning of a New Year does not mean everyone can leave their stress behind them. To combat the burnout crisis, people need to utilize their emotional intelligence and tackle each stressor. 

Although emotional intelligence is a great tool to use during stressful times, it must be strengthened like any other muscle in the body and is only useful when regularly exercised. If you are already in the deep depths of burnout, it is crucial to look for external support. Although we have the tools to work through a lot on our own, it is vital to acknowledge when we need a helping hand, whether it be a friend, family member, or a professional. 

Burnout can have detrimental side effects that can profoundly hinder our physical and emotional well-being. If the support you need is beyond our EQ prevention tactics, please reach out to any of the following mental health resources if you reside in Canada. Here are some mental health resources if you are in the United States.

If you would like to learn more about how to best manage stress in burnout prevention, check out our online course, Increase Your Stress Management. If your team needs a bit of an emotional boost, check out our new special training program, Assess & Distress with Emotional Intelligence. This learning experience provides an opportunity for remote workers to unwind, discover personal and professional stressors impacting their emotional well-being and fulfillment at work, and walk away with tools and techniques to better care for themselves.

Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn to stay up-to-date with our blogs!