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Our fatigue is often caused not by work, but by worry,
frustration and resentment.  ~ Dale Carnegie

Burnout, we all suffer from it.  Somewhere along our journey we come to a place in our career or life where we are completely drained, both physically and emotionally. Often when we refer to burnout our stress level has reached a pinnacle, we can no longer see the forest through the trees, we have lost sight of the big picture, we are running on steam. We may not realize that we have become reliant on band-aid remedies such as stimulants, drugs, and other unhealthy behaviors to keep the momentum going. It’s as if we are fighting for our very survival. If we do not take preventive measures, the contributing factors will lead to burnout, wreaking havoc on our health, happiness, relationships, judgment and job performance.

Burnout has become part of the colloquial, it wraps up in one word the sense of feeling overloaded, overextended, undervalued/ underpaid, stressed by circumstances in which we seemingly have little control. It often feels like all coping mechanisms seem to have been temporarily shut-off, and, essentially, “we’ve have had it.”  Some may feel like they are working all the time but nothing ever seems to get done, tasks are piling up, breaks are saved for the weekends, and self-care/ ignoring personal needs seems to have gone out the window.

Coincidentally, the week before giving a presentation on Burnout for the Mammoth Lakes Chamber of Commerce, I found several of my clients, colleagues and friends feeling burned out, run down; their tank was empty. When burnout truly hits, the demands of the job surpasses our ability to cope with the stress. Stress is an epidemic. The American Institute of Stress states that job stress is our number one health problem, and estimates that stress costs U.S. industry more than $300 billion a year in absenteeism, turnover, diminished productivity and medical legal and insurance costs. Each of these individuals is highly committed to what he or she does. At the same time, each was triggered into a reactionary state by his or he own feelings of powerlessness regarding circumstances that seemed beyond their control.

One client had worked 12 days in a row, including President’s Day, right after returning from a four-day conference in a different time zone, and wished her company would have provided a comp day or two in-between to reenergize.

Another client, was perplexed at how both a manager and an assistant manager were on vacation during a very busy time, when most of the team was already working overtime, and resentful why he had to fill the gap due to poor planning, short sightedness and limited resources.

And then there was a rising young star taking on a new and prestigious role, in addition to the one he already is doing, and feeling that the pay does not commensurate with the number of hours the job demands, the lack of resources available to sustain a work-life balance and the lack of quality life of life his income can buy. He is teetering on feeling overworked, underpaid, and could easily end up hopping to a new position somewhere else as result of his frustration.

One client spent an equivalent of 20 hours navigating IT and support before she could even begin to tackle her workload for the week, and found herself burning the candle at both ends trying to make up for the loss of productivity. The constant pressure to adapt to new technology has amplified the feelings of being overworked and depleted.

Then there are the handful of small business owners (entrepreneurs and solopreneurs) who are doing it all, constantly dealing with frustrations of not having a break from the many hats they wear, feeling as if they never having enough time to get the things done they need to do in order to take a break.

None of this should be surprising given that a recent study by Staples Advantage and WorkPlace Trends found that 53% of Americans report feeling burned out at work. In most cases some of the blame can be placed on a lack of organizational support, vision and execution on the part of employers to establish policies that create a healthier work environment, encourage paid time off, and support implementing meaningful change for their employees’ welfare.

Burnout is a work-related term, involving chronic stress over an extended period of time during which the high demands being placed on you at work are overwhelmingly daunting, you become progressively disengaged in what you do, the demands exceed the resources provided to you to do the job, the job ceases to fulfill your expectations, you become apathetic and cynical, you lose motivation and hope resulting in an overall decline of job performance.  Since first being coined in 1974, burnout has become part of the modern-day work lexicon; this one term seems to be the concise stand in for a long list of items that contribute to stress in the workplace, most notably overwhelming exhaustion, a cynical attitude toward the job and people involved in the job, and a reduced sense of accomplishment.

Luckily, many of the people mentioned above have some awareness of their symptoms. Feeling burned out is a part of life, but noticing when it is happening is imperative to prevent stress from turning into burnout. There are some things we can do to minimize the impact of burnout, and to prevent it from encroaching on our mindset or our effectiveness. We can become more effective leaders of our own lives and pursuits, and one way to accomplish this is by setting priorities and managing our time effectively. Managing time helps to minimize stressors and increase awareness of what we value, and good time management skills enable us to uncover options, set and achieve goals, organize our daily activities and prevent burnout. It is amazing what a few strategies can do to lessen the load, and to declutter whatever is preventing you from creating more time for things you want to do because as stress goes down productivity increases. By determining what is most important and working towards accomplishing we can take things one at a time, then move onto other things focusing on realistic goals.

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