Marie Curie discovered radium. Thomas Edison invented the light bulb. And, Herbert Freudenberger realized and related to the world that humans experience burnout. According to Freudenberger, who was a psychoanalyst, there are three types of exhaustion/burnout:
- Emotional exhaustion – Fatigue from caring too much, for too long.
- De-personalization – Depletion of empathy, caring and compassion…
- Decreased sense of accomplishment – an unconquerable sense of futility; feeling that nothing you do makes any difference.
My clients are struggling the most with the last aspect of burnout. For example, take a new leadership coaching client who is a senior executive responsible for safety at a chemical manufacturing plant. Employees are being let go as more work streams in. He is performing at his peak, but his satisfaction has hit at an all-time low. He is on the brink of burnout.
Burnout makes executives feel they are running only to stand still. Defeated and depleted, instead of thinking like a senior leader and wondering: “What if,” they start to lament: “What’s the point?” They begin to internalize the failure of their higher ups to properly manage resources and set realistic expectations.
It’s easy to argue that bosses are responsible for burnout. But, burned out leaders can take control with a few steps.
1) Own up to your burnout
Are you cranky, negative and tired? Are you feeling like your work doesn’t matter? Does it feel like you are going nowhere? Awareness is the first step to throwing cold water on burn out.
2) Give yourself permission to feel burned out
You are only human. A lot of leaders are feeling this way, especially now. Companies are expecting leaders to do more with less. You are allowed to be burned out.
3) Recognize you are doing your best
Don’t beat yourself up, beat the burnout.
4) Negotiate with your boss
You can’t live in a constant state of FOMO, worrying that if you take care of yourself someone will replace you. Prioritize yourself and you will perform better. Burnout becomes self-fulfilling.
5) Stop chasing an end state
You are only as good as the last problem you solved and the next one is waiting for you right around the corner. Don’t worry constantly about the end point. Do the best you can in each moment.
Just because burnout is to be expected at points in your career doesn’t mean you can’t do something about it. You don’t have to live in a constant state of agitation and hyper vigilance. The better you feel, the better you will perform.