Raechel Pefanis, Professional Coach, Psychotherapist and Author
If there was one thing that put people into therapy rooms like mine over the past year or so, it was burnout. Utter fatigue. Soul-lessness. “Checking out” in ways that most of us used to get all judgey-pants about…but that we now don’t have the energy to judge or worry about.
Everyone is burnt out. Even those pretending not to be are coming to offices like mine, to get help with the chronic stress and demand we’ve been living through, and what it’s done to us as parents, professionals, friends and other important roles.
There are two ways to approach the topic of burnout, and I’ll let you choose your own adventure on this. On one hand, we have the magazine article path: three tips for what to do. On the other hand, we have the real deal: the tough road back from burnout, which requires us to go much deeper.
Path one goes like this.
Tip 1: Leaders, get your boundaries in tact. Say no, turn down offers to do things you don’t really want to do, and find the guts to honour that you are finite and in need of oxygen. Recovery from burnout is typically 2-3 years long in my experience, with behavioural changes at many layers of life. Sign up for the trip.
Tip 2: Remember that burnout is not weakness of your own. It’s an experience coming from too much load for too long, and shaming yourself will only make it worse. Radical acceptance will help you start to solve it, rather than beat yourself up for it.
Tip 3: Be transparent about your experience, and how it is affecting your life. Find a safe person, and find a moment of honesty to share your real, true life. Pretending we are all machines is part of what got us here in the first place, so start turning it around.
Path two is different.
Here, we must look deeply at the issue. Lots of smart people have been defining that for us (Jennifer Moss’ The Burnout Epidemic is a great resource to know about here). But, from my view in the therapy room, there is something else that will need to happen to address this. What is that? We are going to have to do some tough internal work as leaders about the god we worship: productivity. Productivity that is inspired and ethical gives people meaning and vitality. Productivity that is oppressive and unmoored makes people psychologically sick. And we’ve lost our way on this one.
To really make some headwinds on this, leaders will need to do something they are often highly un-inclined to do: deep reflection. Leaders are usually most comfortable in front of screen or at the office, giving answers more than pondering questions. But, to come to understand our own leadership burnout experiences, we’re going to need to get out of our daily lives, and into new spaces to reflect in. Once we do so, the questions at hand would be these:
- How might hyper-productivity be something I have (inadvertently) bought into? When did my life become about achievement and output? How has this hurt me?
- What identity am I avoiding, and why? What happened to my playful self, my mystical self, my wild imperfections or my inner rebel? What am I afraid will happen if I indulge these aspects of my identity?
- Am I ready to live with less profit / productivity, in order to create more humanity and dignity in my home, work, team and life?
- What are my deepest core values (usually there are 2-4)? Am I expressing them? What do I need in place to live more connected to my values again?
- Who or what inspires ME these days?
The road back is long. Leaders are so busy trying to address this topic with their teams that they may be forgetting to do so with themselves. We haven’t got the collective awareness we need to solve burnout yet, but we will. Some revolutionary leaders are out there, ready to think more clearly. If you and your team are looking to dig in and do some learning, reflection and planning around this topic, take a look at the Renaissance Partners Burnout Workshop, which we can tailor to your needs. We’d love to help.