Are you burning out?
Unmanaged stress, and ultimately burnout, is far more common than anybody likes to admit. So much so that burnout is now an official WHO medical diagnosis.
How should you manage your time and stress levels to prevent it?
The leading stressors for small business owners
In mid 2017, Bank of America published a survey which asked 1 001 small business owners in the US to name their biggest personal stressor. Some 41% said managing their business; only 9% said raising children. The landscape hasn’t brightened much since then. In May 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) included burnout in its revised International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), listing it specifically as an occupational phenomenon, rather than a medical condition.
The WHO calls it, and accurately so, ‘a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed’. Whether you’re running your own business or are simply pushing yourself too hard, burnout is a very real, very serious problem for modern workers.
For some people, one episode is enough to make them never want to experience burnout again
Understanding what burnout is
‘Burnout is the result of a prolonged period of time of overextending body and mind in the context of work,’ according to clinical psychologist Colinda Linde of the South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG).
‘It starts off with a “honeymoon” phase where you’re capable of high performance. Then it turns into fatigue and physical exhaustion, but by then it’s difficult to let yourself take time out because you – and the work system you’re in – have become accustomed to what you can deliver.’
How do senior company leaders manage stress, build up mental resilience and beat burnout? From its US headquarters, Johnson & Johnson, for example, runs a special programme for leaders, equipping them with a physiologist, executive coach and dietitian. It’s designed to ‘build sustainably successful leaders’ for a fee.
There has to be a better way to manage stress
It could also be beneficial to explore how successful leaders are better able to assess when to work, when to step away from their desk, and how to better manage their time and therefore how better to deal with stress.
The time management aspect is crucial. Business leaders like Apple’s Tim Cook, Pepsi’s Indira Nooyi and Virgin’s Richard Branson are all known to start their days early – either to get ahead of the day, or (in Branson’s case) to hit the gym. ‘I definitely can achieve twice as much by keeping fit, as it keeps the brain functioning well,’ he once said.
Smart time management also means being more efficient in terms of where and how you direct your focus. When it comes to meetings, Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos sticks to his famous ‘two pizza rule’: if a meeting involves so many people that it takes more than two pizzas to feed them, he declines the meeting request.
Ultimately, no matter how well you juggle your jobs and manage your time, if your worklife is out of balance, you’ll always run the risk of burning out.
The Areas of Worklife model, based on research from the University of California at Berkeley and Acadia University, identifies six areas in which imbalance could lead to burnout.
• Workload: feeling chronically overworked • Perceived lack of control: feeling like you lack autonomy or access to resources • Reward: feeling like you're not getting out what you put in • Community: feeling a lack of trust and connection with your colleagues • Fairness: feeling that your work goes unnoticed • Values mismatch: when your ideals or motivations don't align with your employer's
If you, or one of your employees, tick any of these boxes, it may be time to take action. (If that action means taking time out, having income protection in place for yourself and your team, will alleviate the added stress of not earning an income for the duration.)
‘For some people, one episode is enough to make them never want to experience burnout again,’ says Linde. ‘They put measures in place to balance work, rest and leisure more effectively. They also address the underlying causes – perfectionism, over-responsibility, and so on.’
For others, it may take several episodes before they learn the lesson. ‘With burnout the risk is always that it slides into depression and/or serious illness,’ warns Linde. ‘When the body is that depleted, there’s nowhere else to go.’
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