Burnout: Are We on the Road to Ruin?
Burnout as a word is pretty deceptive. It sounds like at a moment’s notice you’ll be bowled over by an avalanche of stress, overwhelm and sadness before finally combusting into a blinding flash of light and smoke.
In reality, burnout rolls in like a thick fog, snaking through your cells and smothering you until it’s engulfed your brain, body, and soul. You’re left disoriented, wondering how you’ll ever find your way free again.
It can take anyone down – whether you’re running the show solo or working with a team – burnout doesn’t discriminate.
Round-the-clock communication is part of our new reality and the always-on-call workplace culture has become commonplace. We’ve reached a breaking point where more work, more stress, more responsibility, more hours must stop. Our mental and physical selves won’t handle any more tension.
What is burnout:
According to Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D:
“Burnout is a state of chronic stress that leads to:
- physical and emotional exhaustion (being too tired to produce quality work)
- cynicism and detachment (no longer caring about the work produced)
- feelings of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment (feeling like the work you do makes no difference)
When in the throes of full-fledged burnout, you’re no longer able to function effectively on a personal or professional level.”
So let’s clear something up straight away. Burnout is more than merely feeling stressed, irritated or tired from a long day at work. We all have days when we feel down, overwhelmed, or like the world’s hell-bent on stopping us—hauling ourselves out of bed requires a Herculean effort. But it’s not every day.
When you’re on the cusp of succumbing to burnout you’ll feel exhausted continuously, like your work no longer matters, and you’ll have warped and often pessimistic conceptions of both yourself and others.
The road to burnout
While the symptoms can look different from person to person, there are some common threads:
- Signs of physical exhaustion: chronic fatigue, insomnia, always falling ill, and weight gain or loss of appetite.
- Signs of emotional exhaustion: anxiety, depression, and anger issues. A tendency toward pessimism, cynicism, and detachment.
- A drop in productivity. Your overworked brain starts forgetting essential tasks regularly. That, along with an inability to concentrate and pay attention, generally leads to a vicious cycle, where the workload only gets bigger.
You can see what a potential force of destruction burnout can be in your life. So, what do you need to look out for in the workplace that can lead you down the wrong path?
Six major factors that contribute to burnout:
- The expectation of a bigger workload and longer hours
- Micromanaging, over scheduling, loss of a predictable income, loss of trust and lack of respect.
- An imbalance between your personal and professional life
- Lack of feedback both positive or constructive
- Unrealistic expectations from clients
- Being connected 24/7
Now that you can identify the warning signs of burnout and understand the contributing factors; I want to take a moment to explore how we got here.
The hustle harder culture
The first question we ask when we meet someone new is: What do you do?
We’ve collectively become so obsessed with our careers that we no longer spend enough time developing a separate identity, nor do we care to know about yours. On top of that, our vision of success has warped dramatically over the last few decades causing this preoccupation to skyrocket.
When we look to our pinnacles of “success,” we hold up Elon Musk, Steve Jobs, and Beyonce as our measuring sticks. We focus on the concept that to succeed we need to do more. If we just outwork everyone by putting in more hours, give up more of our life – hustle harder – we’ll be successful.
Why is this dangerous?
The flip side of working harder and putting in more hours to be successful is burnout. According to author and workplace expert Rahaf Harfoush:
“Since the industrial revolution productivity has been linked to output but now that most of us have moved into productive creativity/knowledge positions it’s impossible to measure our output in the same way – continuous output leads to a crash.”
The messages we’re receiving is if you aren’t successful (like Richard Branson) it means that you aren’t working HARD enough. That’s incredibly dangerous for a variety of reasons. First, let’s be real and remember along the way each of the people we put on a pedestal has had support – a lot of it. That could be in the form of child care, coaching, financial backing – the list goes on.
Even more concerning is for those of us that are:
- Working multiple part-time jobs
- Going to school
- Caring for aging parents, or children
All while working full time. It begs the question…
Are they not working hard enough?
I recently saw a “motivational” post talking about Beyonce’s preparation for her 2018 Coachella show. This person was explaining how Beyonce had worked tirelessly for 8 months all for a 2-hour live performance. She was stating that if Beyonce could sacrifice all that time for a 2-hour result – what’s your excuse for not getting off your ass for your career/dream/tiny goal?
Really? Maybe it’s just me, but I don’t see a lot of similarities between Beyonce’s life and my own. How about you?
It’s time we redefine what success looks like to be more compassionate and sustainable. We need to step away from the “hustle harder” culture. No more, “If they’re working at 100%, I’m gonna rise up and grind out 150%”…it needs to stop.
In Rahaf Harfoush’s book, “Hustle & Float” she defines this white water rafting term:
The Hustle: is what you do to avoid the obstacles and get where you want to go.
The Float: is when you let the river do the work (lift your paddles out).
If you have too much hustle you make mistakes and get exhausted, with too much float it’s boring, and you lose control of your direction. What you need is balance.
We have to collectively wake up as a society to change the definition of “success” or burnout rates will continue to skyrocket. We can no longer continue to strive for the unattainable standards set by the outliers.
I know it can seem a bit intangible if you’ve never experienced burnout, so I’ll make the reality of it a bit more personal to you. If burnout seeps into your business, here are 7 ways it could impact you:
1. Your creativity hits a wall
There’s no worse feeling than waking up as a writer and not being able to write. I’ve spent hours staring at a blank screen wondering how long it’ll take for that blinking cursor to dance with ANY letters.
The same frustration happens within all creative fields; you all experience moments where the spark isn’t there – you’re forced to slog through and do your best. Real problems arise when you feel as though you have no control over your creativity, begin to feel dispassionate towards your work, and close your mind off to new ways of thinking.
When these feelings begin to build it’s time to implement a strategy to claw your way back to your art. You should never give up on your passion.
2. Productivity levels drop
There are tasks that all of us find tedious on the best days – checking email, posting to social media, following up on appointments – you get the picture. When you’re staring down the barrel of burnout, it’s a lethal mix of anxiety, stress, exhaustion, and apathy – all of which can kill your productivity.
This combo can wreak havoc on your workflows, causing you to miss deadlines, anger clients or begin finishing tasks at a slower rate. You may even find yourself pushing aside any responsibilities you dislike for later – but never actually getting to them.
Setting up automated tasks can be a useful weapon to combat the overwhelm often experienced by small businesses. Here are a few ways that can help:
- Switch to appointment scheduling software
- Let go of the day to day social media scheduling – choose a social media manager like Buffer
- Use IFTT (if this then that) to connect your apps & devices to auto perform
3. Increase in staff turnover
When the stress at work becomes too much to handle, many people decide the best way to escape is to jump ship and leave their job altogether. This hurts your remaining team in several ways. According to 2018, Gallup Poll burned out employees are:
- 63% more likely to take a sick day
- 2.6 times as likely to leave their current employer
- 13% less confident in their performance
In many cases, when you have a co-worker leave due to burnout, it signals that it’s time to look at your work environment. Rally around your remaining staff and have an open, honest dialogue about some of the most common stressors leading to burnout and how your workplace is going to address them:
- Unrealistic deadlines
- Frequent scheduling conflicts or interruptions
- Unpredictable schedules that don’t let you get enough rest
- Added responsibilities that go beyond your initial job scope without a raise in pay
- Interpersonal demands such as dealing with demanding clients or co-workers
4. Rate of errors surges
It can start as innocuous as entering your next dental appointment in your iCal at 1 am instead of 1 pm. Next thing you know the phone is ringing and you realize YOU’RE the dreaded “no-show.” An easy mistake you think, but not one you usually make.
You’re feeling distracted, drifting off as client chats away in your chair…this is where you need to get serious. In your line of work, errors happen, but they need to be the exception, not the rule.
Burnout plays with your mind. The brain fog is hard to snap out of, and the forgetfulness and error rate are part of the package. That’s why you need to take the necessary precautions well before the first signs of the fall even begin.
Automation is a lifesaver for solo entrepreneurs and small businesses. Step back while you’re feeling productive to look at your current processes. Which parts of your business could you make automatic? One fundamental way to avoid burnout is to take as much off your plate as possible. Take those hours to put balance into your life and give yourself time away from your business.
5. Quality of work diminishes
When you work in a results-based industry – whether that be as a tattoo artist or a barber – you understand the pressure to deliver every time. If you’re overworking yourself, neglecting the balance between work-life and feeling pressure from unrealistic deadlines, it can impair your ability to do your best.
The deeper you sink into a pit of stress, the further behind you fall in your ability to stay sharp. Staying motivated starts to become an issue and you’ll lose your drive to be your best. Burnout becomes a cycle that will spin out of control until you step aside and ask for help.
6. Focus on your goals is derailed
We all grumble when new years rolls around, and it’s article stacked upon article hyping the value of “goal setting” for your life and business. But you know what – setting targets is one of the most important things you can do if you want to achieve something.
Writing down your ambitions helps solidify your “why” and holds you accountable for your actions. As soon as you get overwhelmed or have tough decisions to make; a list of goals will help you work out what you want.
When you get burnt out, it’s easy to lose focus on your objectives. Goals can be a large part of what drives you, motivates out and keeps you on a steady track to success. If you lose focus on them, your work may slow down, be derailed or stop altogether.
7. Toxic work culture emerges
I know we’re a long way from the signs and symptoms of burnout so we’ll do a quick recap:
- brain fog
- inability to concentrate/pay attention
Your once cheerful co-worker might start to complain a lot – she hates the sound you make when you eat, why is it always so hot in here, does EVERYONE have to drag their feet when they walk? Or he might be real upfront with how much he hates his job, his boss, coming in every day…and that’s not gonna be fun for anyone.
This has the potential to impact the overall environment and everyone in the shop severely. Not to mention when your co-worker (and let’s face it, likely friend) is stressed-out and interacting on the daily with clients. You’ll need to stay on high alert, or you’ll be doing damage control before you know it – and some actions/words can’t be taken back.
What can you do to prevent burnout?
After all of that information, you’re probably thinking: that’s all well and good – but what can I do to prevent burning out in the first place?
Well, here are ten ways you can make yourself a priority. START NOW. Once you begin to feel the signs of burnout it’s too late:
- Take a vacation – leave the electronics at home
- Automate your business (start with appointment scheduling software)
- Get enough sleep
- Build a dynamic team (filled with people that complement each other & you)
- Meditate daily
- Develop rituals (ex. a 15-minute walk at the end of each day)
- Take up a hobby
- Work out
- Find a support network
- Learn how to say no
Do what you love, automate the rest. Stop burnout in its tracks.
Let Bookedin offload all those time-consuming tasks and free up your day for more important things. Start your 14-day free trial today.