Burnout is nothing new — the Roman physician Galen wrote about the condition in the 2nd century AD — but these days the problem has reached near epidemic proportions.
One recent Gallup poll found nearly a quarter of employees claim they’re constantly burned out, while a massive 44 percent reported feeling sometimes burned out. All that exhaustion costs something like $125 billion to $190 billion in health-care spending a year.
One way to avoid becoming part of these grim statistics yourself is to take it easy, but if you’ve got big ambitions or a high-powered position, a laid back life probably isn’t an option. If you’re on this high-achieving track, what’s your remedy? One great place to look for answers is Google.
The search giant is known for its highly selective hiring and demanding work environment, but according to the book Peak Performance, workers at the firm are actually far less prone to burnout than employees at your average big company.
Thoughtful, data-driven management and mindfulness certainly play a role in that success, but as the company’s in-house productivity expert explains to Lila MacLellan in a recent Quartz article, leaders at the first also rely on another technique to avoid burnout too. And thankfully, it’s easy for anyone — no matter their job or title — to put to use.
Martin worked her way up to her current position as Google’s in-house productivity expert after a long and varied career in business that included jobs as an executive assistant and in sales. In each role, Martin noticed she often adjusted her personal life to be the opposite of whatever her current gig demanded of her.
So “when Martin worked as executive assistant at Google, her managers would make comments like, ‘The trips you plan for me are so perfectly organized, you must have amazing vacations,'” MacLellan reports. But, in fact, “her vacations were ‘pretty messy.'” When Martin was on the phone with sales prospects all day, “she’d come home and not feel like talking much with her roommate or friend.”
Martin noticed this natural tendency to balance the yin of her work with the yang of her home life kept her from burning out. Now she actively teaches this approach to Google executives.
“The goal is to essentially flex different social and cognitive muscles,” reports MacLellan. So much like weight lifters work their legs and upper bodies on alternate days to give each muscle group a chance to rest and recover while still keeping up consistent workouts, Google executives avoid burnout by consciously creating a strong contrast between their work and home lives.
If they’re going to spend the day at the office quietly writing or coding, they might invite a group of friends over in the evening. If their day is wall-to-wall meetings, they might fill their after hours with a long walk, engage in a favorite solo hobby (another proven way to increase mentsal strength), or deep dive into a great book. “If you’re productive in one way at work, take the opposite approach in your personal life,” is Martin’s essential message.
The joy of this approach isn’t just that it’s effective, taking advantage of humans’ natural tendency to cycle between low and high energy periods as well as social and reclusive phases, but it’s also dead easy. No matter your role or level of seniority, this is a lesson you can use to consciously build more resilience into your life and avoid burnout.
Looking for more burnout-busting tips? Familiarizing yourself with the distinct types of burnout, as well as the way the condition progresses can help you nip problems in the bud. And there’s plenty more advice out there on how to pull yourself back from the brink of disaster.
Originally published on Inc.com.
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