DIY burnout, or a manual of self-guided exhaustion
Just a couple of years ago an emotional burnout was believed to be an exotic foreign thing, however, now it's sadly becoming somewhat normalized. Darya, NoveoSPb QA Techlead, and Anastasiya, a head of HR, filled in on how to tell the difference between burnout and fatigue and how to keep it at arm’s length.
For starters, we should have a short historical journey into the matter of emotional burnout in case you aren’t well-informed.
A disclaimer - it's not a medical condition (which is good :)) but a number of symptoms related to some kind of stress. Emotional burnout is a syndrome originating from work-related stress, i.e. we are going to have some shoptalk.
Moreover, burnout is a long-lasting process; it means you can’t burn out within a couple of days even if you try. In general, there are 3 stages of burnout:
- The first stage is a stage of ‘burning bright’ - you work hard being completely involved, something like “I work 12 hours a day and I like it. It’s my choice, I'm cool, leave me alone”. Some psychologists believe it is related to the attempt to live up to (your or somebody else’s) high expectations from yourself or your work.
- The stage of resistance - you feel the stress is growing (you wake up being already tired) and you unconsciously try to rid of it or hide from it. How does it work? You “save” your emotions (not only at work but also with your close ones) which might be perceived by others as indifference; you become less responsive (“I feel bad, why do I have to help someone else?”); you try to reduce the tasks which are emotionally demanding (talking to your apprentice or an anxious customer, having “no time” for your PM). As the result of such a “saving” strategy you may end up getting at any small thing that otherwise you wouldn’t even pay attention to.
- The final stage - you are burnt out and turned into “coal”. You lose any interest in regards to your work or anything that used to make you happy (friends, family, hobby, self-development). Now you have neither will nor power to do anything and you get more and more irritated. Then you feel “fed up with everything and that no one understands you”. After that you don’t want to go to work so much that you actually get sick (pay respects to psychosomatics).
Now, taking into account the above-mentioned stages here are the bad advices, which, if you follow, will lead you to guaranteed burnout.
- Take work home on a regular basis! Literary, code and make reports when at home and better in the evening, but, if you can’t do that, then keep thinking about work at least.
- Work late and get little sleep. And if you suffer from insomnia - it’s just perfect! You can work even more. Do wake up early to work more before you actually get down to work.
- Treat your work as something your whole life depends on! Aut cum scuto, aut in scuto!
- If something went wrong and you feel you are not going to make it, even though you have been working 10 hours a day, neither your manager nor your HR have to know about your problems. Don’t bother, better work more.
- Take on even more responsibility, they won’t be able to cope without you because you are capable of anything!
- Procrastination is awesome! Don’t really feel like working? You’ve had enough, it’s all dull and pointless? Keep silent about it and pretend you are working 100500 hours but instead occupy youself with something dumb - surf the net aimlessly, watch a TV show, in other words kill your time so that you have nothing to remember afterwards.
- Can’t meet the deadline because you don't have any power nor motivation to work? Don't confess the fact! The blame is definitely on the customer and PM - what kind of people are they?!
- In any weird situation don't think too much, just blame others (your PM, manager, colleagues, HR, customer, you name it) . It's all their fault. And do not explain what actually they have done wrong. If they can’t guess - it is their problem, they should worry.
- A one-off vacation is for losers (sleep too, refer to №2). Why do you have to go on holiday if you can work? Feel tired? Not a big deal as you can practice procrastination.
- A hobby, time with family and friends - it’s too much. You have no time for these because you are falling behind your work tasks so you will need even more time for work and a little more for procrastinating.
Okay, seriously, burnout is quite a lengthy process, the sooner you detect some early alarming indicators and call for help the less chance you will turn into a tired burned coal. If you or your mate feel a noticeable decrease of motivation (NB “now it is not like it used to be although I have been working on the project/ with this customer/ at this pace for a long time”) emotional exhaustion (“I don't feel like talking or seeing anyone and I don’t remember when I last felt joy or excitement or anything at all”) and unreasonable fatigue (“I haven't done anything really but I feel tired”), you are indifferent or even negative to your work although it used to bring you joy, low performance (“ there is something that took me an hour, now I can barely complete it in 3 hours”), then it’s time you took some serious steps to fight your burnout.
What to do?
Read our bad advice again and do everything the other way round :)
Here are some useful life hacks this time:
- a simple three-eighths rule: twenty-four hours are equally divided 3 times by 8 - 8 hours of work, 8 hours of your personal life and 8 hours of sleep.
- Well-planned workflow: estimate if what you have planned to do fits into a 40-hour work week. If it doesn't, then what? Approach your manager and PM, most likely some tasks will be delegated to somebody else, some will be reassessed or rescheduled;
- Don’t forget that once you’ve started burning out it will be difficult to track how tired you are (because you get used to feeling always tired). Schedule in time for rest as an important stage of workflow, don’t underestimate it.
- “eat the frog at once” - do not postpone less pleasant tasks, as you won’t be able to stop thinking about them and so it’ll waste your energy and you will have to get them done anyway. It means you get twice emotionally charged.
- Reconsider your work beliefs. The statements like “it won’t work out without me/ it all depends on me/ I’ll have a break when I retire” must be forgotten with no regret.
- You shouldn’t neglect your hobbies and friends for the sake of work. You must have some time for something that inspires you, makes you happy and recharges your batteries.
- If you can't handle your state on your own - turn to professionals for help.
Most often, burnout is a direct result of perfectionism and hyper-responsibility. If these characteristics are about you, be careful: you need measure in everything! Burnout is much easier to prevent than to recognise and fight, the more so because prevention measures are extremely enjoyable: sports, travelling, any other hobby (even a shovel and a hoe at the cottage!) - everything you like and that allows you to distract your head from work in your spare time. And you should direct perfectionism towards improving your skills - the growth of professionalism is directly proportional to the interest and fascination of the tasks ;)
We wish everyone to work with pleasure! ;)