I am am bit taken aback that my most-read post on Linked In is an article I reposted (with no comment) about how to recognise the signs of burn out. I post about Brexit (a lot), the US and Trump, Scottish independence referendums, the environment, the future, working life, coaching, fairness, Brexit, the US elections...you get the picture. I'm curious and enthusiastic. I read widely. I like to share things I find interesting. My network is similar, enthusiastic, politically-engaged, interested in the world. But on the basis of this experience, also feeling that they might be reaching the end of their tether?
That's sad. We are (mostly) living at one of the luckiest points in history. We have amazing technology, fabulous opportunities, huge networks, great food, endless variety, endless choice, yet we're burned out. Or think we might be getting there.
Most people talk about the 'always on' culture when they talk about burnout, but I am not so sure that's the root cause. It's too easy to say that, because as sentient human beings, we have choices. We don't need to be always on. In most cases, we can switch off. But we choose not to for fear of missing someone or something, or being caught out.
I think we feel burned out because we're living in a culture where it's much easier to fail. Because we're supposed to be always on, missing the slightest thing is failing. Because we feel we might be failing, we don't spend enough time doing things we love or being with friends and family. And because we don't, we feel we're failing. See the link?
So what can we do about it? It's a societal problem, so it's hard for one person to fix on their own. They might want to, but there are so many external pressures that they can't really. So they feel that they're failing again and then up pops the burnout.
What's the solution? The opposite of failure is control. Take control of one thing. It might be putting your out of office on for 4 hours every day so that you can do the big things that never get done. It might be signing up for Zumba and going every week. It might be meeting a friend in the pub after work, even though you are "too busy". The combination of reward for sticking to the plan and feeling good because you're doing something other than work is addictive and triggers the rewards circuits in your brain (just like your phone does, by the way..).
That's the personal bit - what we can do to help ourselves. What can we do for other people though when we see the signs of burnout? I think we can:-
1. Ask how they are and really listen to the answer
2. Help them to see what really needs to be done and what can wait
3. Take them out, walk, talk, drink coffee, give them time.
4. Bring a sense of proportion
5. Take it step by step
6. Examine the culture in the organisation where you work (if you are a colleague). What might be contributing? Be honest about that...
7. Call them up out of the blue to ask how they are and make it clear that you'll listen and not judge
8. Don't provide the answers - ask the questions. Most people know what they need to do. They just need to talk it through
9. Look at your own life and the example you set
10. Repeat until better.
Too much choice, too much pressure, too much information. Turns out it's a toxic combination. Let's put it to bed rather than retiring there ourselves.