Burnout: prevention tips for employees

A burnout rarely has a sole cause. Instead, it more often results from a combination of factors. As a coach, I’d like to share a few recurring themes that employees can use preventively.

Talent Management
Stefanie Geerinck

Where does it go wrong?

In my previous blog, Burnout: no escape?, I mentioned that it isn’t always so easy to pinpoint exactly where things go wrong. The possible stressors can be incredibly diverse.  Although burnout is a work-related condition, problems in the private sphere or personal vulnerabilities can also intensify the process. Moreover, each individual has their own history, distinctive character, and unique situation. And every job and organisation is different.

This lack of insight and overview is really paralysing for some. A kind of powerlessness takes over. People no longer take action and just let things run their course. And that is exactly what I, as a prevention coach, want to avoid at all times. When I look back at the progress of my coachees, I see several themes recurring regularly that the employees can change themselves. For example, the biggest sore points often have to do with knowing oneself well, self-care, self-leadership, and communication.

The beginning of all wisdom

It may sound a bit cliché, but knowing oneself well really is the beginning of all wisdom here. And then we often just start with the basics: Who am I? What do I really want? What can I do? What do I like to do? These are simple questions, and yet the answer – and especially the way to the answer – turns out to be more complex than you might think.

Our society is mainly focused on rationality and achievement. In addition, for many, there was little room for expressing emotions and individuality while they were growing up, and the focus was more on obedience and ‘belonging’. Add to that a gigantic amount of daily stimuli and it is not surprising that people go into autopilot.

I see how employees live too much in their heads, and completely lose touch with themselves and their confidence in themselves. In our sessions, we try to repair and reconnect with what energises us and get rid of the restrictive beliefs that hold us back.

Get back behind the wheel yourself

I spend a lot of time working on self-leadership with my coachees. Together, we try to switch off the autopilot and get back behind the wheel, to steer our thoughts, lives, and careers based on a course set around our own desires, dreams, and core values.

1. Taking care of yourself

Self-leadership is implemented at various levels. Among other things, it is about learning to listen to and meet your own wishes and needs and thus staying in touch with your own ‘I’. That connection with yourself is the basis of self-leadership. To be able to make that connection, you must first literally take good care of yourself. Paying sufficient attention to your physical and mental health is fundamental. Do you exercise enough? What’s your diet like? Do you get enough sleep? It is important to be alert to the signals of your body, but also those of your mind. Make sure you alternate between performing or being busy, and resting or decompressing. Give your brain the opportunity to not ‘have to’ anything once in a while. 

2. Steering thoughts consciously

Self-leadership also means becoming aware of the power of your own train of thoughts. And to realise that what you think has a great influence on how you feel and, consequently, how you behave. Negative or unsupportive thoughts should therefore be held up to the light, and you should ask yourself, “Is this thought correct?”, “Is this thought helping me achieve my goal?” If the answers to any of these types of questions are no, you can learn to adjust and ‘reprogramme’ your thoughts into positive, supportive thoughts.

3. Managing energy well

Self-leadership is about making sure you have and maintain enough energy. This means that you consciously set your boundaries and make choices that ensure adequate self-care and self-development. What energises you? And what drains you? How can you make sure your batteries stay charged? Your body and mind need sufficient recovery moments to keep functioning properly.

Linked to this, it can be enlightening to ask the question, “Must I do this now?” You can read this question in five different ways by stressing a different word each time. This simple trick can help you set your priorities.

  • MUST I do this now? – Is it really necessary?
  • Must I do this now? – Do I have to do it myself or are there other resources that might do it better or more efficiently?
  • Must I do THIS now? – Is this really what has to happen?
  • Must I do this NOW? – Does it have to be done right this minute or can it wait?
  • Must I DO this now? – Is there really an action required here? After all, some things solve themselves.

This simple trick can help you set your priorities and manage your energy well.

4. Focusing on impact

Self-leadership is also about choosing how to react to difficult circumstances, and consciously deciding what to pay attention to or not. I try to bring my coachees’ focus back to the things that they can actually impact. What can and can’t you control? Paying too much attention to things you have no control over causes a huge loss of energy. So let’s all do less of that.

5. Allowing imperfection

Veering off the beaten track and forming your own path is also a form of self-leadership. Allow yourself the necessary trial & error as this helps you grow and discover who you really are at your core. Not everything has to be as perfect as we sometimes tell ourselves. There is no shame in apologising if you realise that you could have done things differently. On the contrary, it shows strength and self-reflection. We learn so much more from mistakes, disappointments, or difficult moments. It is sometimes there that the most valuable invitations to personal growth can be found.

6. Taking responsibility

Finally, self-leadership is also taking responsibility for your own behaviour. Do not make excuses or blame others. After all, you decide how much time you spend scrolling on your smartphone, how you organise your day, or what your priorities are. It is your responsibility to get a grip on your own behaviour, regardless of the baggage you may be carrying. It goes without saying that you need understanding and support, but no one can do it for you.

You can learn to communicate 

Technology has made a lot possible. We are always connected and every thought soon becomes an email, a WhatsApp message, a comment, or a like. We can simply call those who aren’t physically with us whenever and wherever, as well as sending selfies and holiday photos in real time. It seems as if we are constantly communicating with each other.

And yet, we often don’t express the most important things because we don’t always know how to formulate them, because we prefer to avoid conflict, or because we want to please people and be in everybody’s good books. However, by doing so, we allow our boundaries to be crossed systematically, we get drained, and the relationships we have with our colleagues or managers become strained. Practising nonviolent communication techniques can make a world of difference in the short term. That’s a great topic for a future blog…😊

You don’t have to do it alone

So there are quite a few things you can do preventively yourself. But you don’t have to do it all by yourself. In addition to these general tips, which can be valuable for everyone, it is, of course, better to work individually with a trained prevention coach to find out what you need and where your potential risk zones are. I am happy to help you in my individual counselling sessions. This structural support often provides the necessary peace of mind and support to bring about the necessary change.

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