How to prevent burnout syndrome and stay in your optimal zone — Dropbox Business Blog UK

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9 April 2018 — 4 min read

How to prevent burnout syndrome and stay in your optimal zone

As part of our continued work around Stress Awareness Month, we wanted to highlight a particularly damaging condition called burnout syndrome. It is a condition that can have a weighty impact on teamwork, your creativity and your efficiency at work – not to mention have some negative impact after you’ve left the office too.

If constant stress has you feeling helpless and completely exhausted you may be on the road to burnout. When you are burned out, problems seem insurmountable, everything looks bleak and it’s difficult to must up the energy to care – never mind doing something to help yourself. We want to give you some examples on how to spot it in yourself (and your colleagues), stop it and turn that negative energy into something more positive.

What is burnout syndrome?

Burnout is a state of chronic stress that can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion, cynicism and detachment. It can leave you feeling ineffective and like you lack any kind of accomplishment. Two important definitions of burnout are:

  • “A state of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion caused by long term involvement in emotionally demanding situations.” Ayala Pines and Elliot Aronson
  • “A state of fatigue or frustration brought about by devotion to a cause, way of life, or relationship that failed to produce the expected reward.” – Herbert J. Freudenberger

Between them, these two definitions encapsulate the essence of burnout. The first highlights the part that exhaustion plays and the latter the disillusionment that is at its core.

The truth is that anyone can become exhausted. But what is so poignant about burnout is that it mainly strikes those who are highly committed to their work: you can only ‘burn out’ if you have been ‘alight’ in the first place. While exhaustion can be overcome with rest, burnout causes a deep sense of disillusionment and is not experienced by people able to take a more cynical view of their work.

Spotting the symptoms of burnout

The symptoms can vary widely from person to person depending on your particular type of burnout and your coping mechanisms for stress. But, they tend to fall into three categories:

  • Physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Cynicism and detachment
  • Ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment

Burnout may manifest itself as feelings of tiredness or an inability to sleep. It might make you feel more pessimistic, forgetful or even anxious. It could instil a sense of apathy and hopelessness, making you feel more irritable and ultimately unproductive. It is important that you are able to recognise any of these symptoms so you can take the necessary steps to avoid or overcome burnout.

Five ways to overcome burnout

If you have ever experienced any of these symptoms or start to, here are some ideas, methodologies and tips to help you overcome them and get back to meaningful work instead:

  • Create a fun environment – find ways to introduce activities that ensure you and your team bond and feel happier in the workplace. Structure your environment so you feel motivated and have the tools you need to succeed in your role.
  • Slow down – small things can make a big impact to your attitude and well-being. Such as taking regular breaks during the working day and getting away from your desk. Annual leave should be taken and used to recharge your batteries.
  • Create a supportive culture – ensure that the company you work for creates a culture of support. This includes leaders modelling supportive behaviour and rewarding employees who exemplify these values.
  • Encourage socialising – isolation is not the best strategy when feeling overwhelmed and burned out. It’s important to turn to friends and family for support. It can be as simple as sharing feelings with another person to relieve some of the feelings and symptoms of stress.
  • Communicate with your team – clear communication with team members helps to define clear goals, expectations and project deadlines. It comes down to good management and excellent communication. If everyone understands what they’re working towards they are less likely to burnout. Even large projects can seem less intimidating when you can see the light at the end of the tunnel.

Unfortunately, burnout is a common issue in the workplace and is the result of not taking care of yourself and managing stress effectively. It can cause real problems for you personally and for the business as well. It is important to remember slowing down and getting support can bring structure to your work environment and contribute to feeling happier, positive and more motivated. Being happy at work makes you 28% more productive and free to put your energy to good use.
Take a look at our recent article packed full of advice on managing stress to help you avoid burnout.

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