Reducing Your Risk Of Burnout At Work

By Beverly Beuermann-King

First, being burned out and being stressed out are not the same thing. Being burned out is not the same as dealing with depression. Being stressed out can lead to being burned out and being burned out can lead to depression.  

Second, many can tell when they are stressed out, but often, you cannot tell if you are burned out.

Third, stress and burnout are serious mental health issues.

As an administrative professional, what do you need to know?

Stress is often the result of too many pressures, issues, and challenges that need to be dealt with. Burnout may be the result of unrelenting stress, but it isn’t the same as too much stress. Burnout is when that stress progresses, so that you feel empty, lack in motivation, and beyond caring about what is happening around you. A colleague experiencing burnout often doesn’t see any hope of positive change in their situation. You may be moving from stress to burnout if you experience very few “good” days, if you have stopped caring about your work or home life, if you are exhausted all the time, if you are overwhelmed more days than not, and if you feel like nothing you do makes a difference or is appreciated.

Stress vs. Burnout

Stress                                                             Burnout

Characterized by over-engagementCharacterized by disengagement
Emotions are over-reactiveEmotions are blunted
Produces urgency and hyperactivityProduces helplessness and hopelessness
Loss of energyLoss of motivation, ideals, and hope
Leads to anxiety disordersLeads to detachment and depression
Primary damage is physicalPrimary damage is emotional
May kill you prematurelyMay make life seem not worth living
Source: Stress and Burnout in Ministry

What Is Burnout?

Burnout is a cluster of physical, emotional and mental exhaustion reactions. Researchers have categorized three main types of burnout:

  • “Frenetic” burnout often happens to people who are usually extremely ambitious and hardworking, to the point of workaholism. Frenetic burnout is strongly correlated to the number of hours per week people work.
  • The “Underchallenged” form of burnout is likely to happen when your employees are not engaged, bored, lack stimulation, and have little or no room for personal growth. Employees suffering from this form of burnout tend to become cynical because of the dissatisfaction they feel. Studies reveal that people who work in administration and service industries were at higher risk for this category of burnout.
  • The “Worn-out” variety of burnout tends to hit people who have been in their positions for long periods of time. They may feel that their work is not acknowledged or feel a lack control over their work. Those who were in the same position for at least 16 years had five times the likelihood of falling into this form of burnout.

Work-Related Causes Of Burnout For Administrative Professionals:

  • Workload: Too much work, or not enough resources. Working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment
  • Fairness: Discrimination or favouritism. Unclear or overly demanding job expectations 
  • Control: Micromanagement, lack of influence, or accountability without power
  • Reward: Not enough pay, acknowledgment, or satisfaction
  • Community: Isolation, conflict, or disrespect
  • Values: Ethical conflicts or doing meaningless or monotonous tasks

Additional Lifestyle Causes Of Burnout:

  • Working too much, without enough time for relaxing and socializing
  • Being expected to be too many things to too many people
  • Taking on too many responsibilities, without enough help from others
  • Not getting enough sleep
  • Lack of close, supportive relationships

Personality Traits That Can Contribute To Burnout:

  • Perfectionistic tendencies (nothing is ever good enough)
  • Pessimistic view of yourself and the world
  • The need to be in control
  • High-achieving Type A personality

Nearly eight in 10 employees (79 percent) worldwide are suffering from some degree of burnout at work—with 40 percent suffering moderately to severely, according to O.C. Tanner Institute’s 2020 Global Culture Report. In Canada, 46 percent of employees reportedly feel a sense of burnout.

Symptoms Of Burnout

Often when it comes to burnout, we picture someone who is 40 or older and has been working for many years, but someone may be experiencing the symptoms of burnout even if they are as young as 25 years of age. Some people experience burnout as a more sudden onset, while others perceive that something is changing, and it may take several years to manifest. They may notice a lack of personal achievement and satisfaction at work. Going to work may feel like drudgery and their frustration levels may increase.

Physical signs and symptoms of burnout:

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time
  • Lowered immunity, feeling sick a lot
  • Dry mouth and throat or difficulty swallowing
  • Diarrhea or constipation
  • Chest pains or heart palpitations
  • Frequent headaches, back pain, muscle aches
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits
  • Rashes, hives or other skin problems
  • Nervous tics

Emotional signs and symptoms of burnout:

  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless, frustrated, trapped, and defeated
  • Detachment, apathetic, feeling alone in the world
  • Moodiness and irritability
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increasingly cynical, disillusioned and negative outlook
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment

Behavioural signs and symptoms of burnout:

  • Needing more hours to get work done
  • Lack of focus
  • Decreased creativity and lack of new ideas
  • Lack of enthusiasm and interest in work
  • Forgetfulness
  • Substance abuse
  • Blaming, distrust of others and complaining

Treatments and Strategies For Combating Burnout

Administrative Professionals who are suffering from burnout feel they are powerless to change things and often blame others or the situation, rather than taking action for change.

There are two paths to dealing with burnout: The individual path and the organizational path.

Individual Strategies

  • Slow down. You need to force yourself to take a break, which can be hard to do. Cut back whatever commitments and activities you can. Give yourself time to rest, reflect, and heal.
  • Change what you can. Talk to your team about your current responsibilities if you are overburdened. Take a proactive approach—rather than a passive one—to issues in your workplace.
  • Maintain balance. Having interests outside work can make your job stress feel less overwhelming. 
  • Talk to a professional. If you’re still feeling lost, talk to someone—a psychologist, career counselor, consultant, or life coach—to help you get out of the rut and make a plan for change.
  • Boost your skills. Some examples include relaxation and meditation skills, or assertiveness, time management and problem-solving skills training.
  • Take time off. If burnout seems inevitable, take a complete break from work. Go on vacation, take a temporary leave-of-absence—anything to remove yourself from the situation. Use the time away to recharge your batteries and get perspective.
  • Talk to your supporters. Reaching out to friends, family, and peers can de-isolate you from your burnout. Simply sharing your feelings with another person can relieve some of the burden.
  • Make a plan. Part of the problem with burnout is the lack of control that’s associated with it. Re-evaluate your goals and priorities. Burnout can be an opportunity to rediscover what really makes you happy and to change course accordingly.

Organizational Strategies For Administrative Professional Leaders

A study by Gallup’s James Harter that found that lower job satisfaction foreshadowed poorer bottom-line performance, and that billions of dollars are lost annually due to “employee disengagement.” Happy employees thrive for two basic reasons: They believe what they do at work makes a difference, and they are continually learning and gaining new knowledge and skills.

Organization-directed interventions take into consideration the impact that work environment has on employees. Common areas that are targeted in an effort to reduce or prevent burnout are: 

  • Employee autonomy: Increase control and decision making over their work schedules, workload, and work processes. As a manager, stop trying to do everything yourself. Learn to trust your team, and delegate tasks based on their varied skill sets.
  • Management style: Reduce micro-managing and top-down hierarchies and increase leadership visibility, open communication, employee trust and collaboration.
  • Training: Increasing employee competencies and providing opportunities for professional development. An effective training program will provide common elements such as the use of checklists, incentives, and easy to understand procedures. It will create a system of standards that empower your team to achieve the required daily objectives.
  • Social culture/environment: This can include reducing interpersonal conflict, being realistic about workload, increasing social support and teamwork, supporting work-life balance and aligning employee and company values. Promote a healthy culture and eliminate those things that make it toxic, including sexual harassment and bullying which impacts many administrative professionals. 
  • Acknowledgement: This includes instilling a fair effort and rewards system.

Administrative Professional Leaders Can Help Manage Burnout By:

  • Using their team to their full potential. Employees feel less withdrawn from work when they derive meaning from their work and their skills, knowledge and experience are fully utilized.
  • Giving positive feedback and recognizing their achievements.
  • Encouraging your team to share their feelings and concerns. Talking with colleagues can help put an issue into perspective.
  • Striving for success. Work teams that are constantly trying new ideas and taking risks seldom burn out.

“It is a shame that many people quit a job that they use to love without realizing that they may have been able to prevent burnout from occurring in the first place.”

Beverly Beuermann-King

Burnout can be a serious consequence of an unbalanced life and of an environment where the individual experiences little control and high demands. Leaders can help their administrative professionals by ensuring a clearer understanding of what their job entails, providing as much control as possible, ensuring that demands are realistic, and by recognizing their contributions and achievements.

Stress and resiliency strategist, Beverly Beuermann-King, CSP, translates current research and best practices information into a realistic, accessible and more practical approach through her dynamic stress and wellness workshops, on-line stress and resiliency articles, books, e-briefs and media interviews. Beverly specializes in working with leaders and teams that want to MINIMIZE STRESS, BUILD RESILIENCY, and CREATE HEALTHY WORKPLACES. If you are thinking ‘That’s Us’, Let’s Talk!

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