Take a vacation, immediately. Yes, this is not optional. You need immediate time away from your life. If you can’t leave for a long period, look for the support or people who can help you get a four day break. This will help you figure out how deeply you’re in the burnout pit.
Millions of Americans are returning back to work after being home during the pandemic. While this has been exciting for many, some are feeling burned out by their work. What do you do if you are feeling burned out by your work? How do you reverse it? How can you “get your mojo back”? What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
In this interview series called “Beating Burnout: 5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout,” we are talking to successful business leaders, HR leaders and mental health leaders who can share insights from their experience about how we can “Beat Burnout.”.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Laura Briggs.
Laura Briggs is The Freelance Coach. A former teacher turned entrepreneur and freelance writer, she’s a two-time TEDx speaker and the author of The Six Figure Freelancer and the award-winning How to Start Your Own Freelance Writing Business. She hosts the Advanced Freelancing podcast weekly.
Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive into the main focus of our interview, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory? What or who inspired you to pursue your career? We’d love to hear the story.
I started working as a freelance writer because I was a military spouse and had burned out as a teacher. I knew I’d be moving with my family and wanted a flexible and fulfilling career.
None of us can achieve success without some help along the way. Was there a particular person who you feel gave you the most help or encouragement to be who you are today? Can you share a story about that?
My husband was an instrumental part of me starting my business. He’s been in the background cheering me on and helping me work through thorny business problems as I scaled.
Can you share the funniest or most interesting mistake that occurred to you in the course of your career?
What lesson or take away did you learn from that? I hired a lot of virtual assistants who completely flaked and ghosted on me! It kept happening and I would feel this sense of relief that I’d finally gotten the help I needed before another one disappeared. Thankfully I have a great and reliable team now!
Can you share your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Why does that resonate with you so much?
My childhood hero is Annie Oakley and I love this quote from her ““Aim at a high mark and you’ll hit it. No, not the first time, nor the second time. Maybe not the third. But keep on aiming and keep on shooting for only practice will make you perfect.”
What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now? How do you think that might help people?
I’m currently working on my fifth book, Content is King, and preparing to launch my fourth book next spring, Remote Work for Military Spouses.
You are a successful business leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?
Willingness to keep pushing even after hearing “no” many times or being told I was too experienced/not experienced enough/too expensive, etc.
For the benefit of our readers, can you briefly let us know why you are an authority about the topic of burnout?
I have burned out three times. I believe that burnout is something that is common for certain people and they get back into the habit of heading towards burnout too easily. That’s the case for me. I burned out working 14 hour days as a teacher and also in my business once after my first book launch. I also recently transitioned from an employee role back to working for myself because I saw the early signs of burnout, too. One of my mentors says “We teach what we need to learn” and this is why I started researching and learning about burnout more and more to help myself.
Ok, thank you for all of that. Let’s now shift to the main focus of our interview about beating burnout. Let’s begin with a basic definition of terms so that all of us are on the same page. How do you define a “Burnout”? Can you explain? How would you define or describe the opposite of burnout?
I would describe it as flow or balance. It’s when there’s a good mix of self-care, learning, hobbies, family/friend time, and work or business.
This might be intuitive to you, but it will be instructive to expressly articulate this. Some sceptics may argue that burnout is a minor annoyance and we should just “soldier on’’ and “grin and bear it.” Can you please share a few reasons why burnout can have long-term impacts on our individual health, as well as the health and productivity of our society?
I love the way author Becca Syme describes burnout. She says it’s a deep pit that we ride into on a slide. Once we’re on the slide, we can’t really get off, but we can significantly slow down our entry into the pit and end up in the shallow end rather than the deep end. The reason burnout is so concerning is that it can be unbelievably hard to get out of. There’s no pill, exercise habit, or cure-all that fixes burnout overnight. It can take months to fully recover in most cases, during which time the person experiences exhaustion, lack of focus, difficulty sleeping and eating, and so much more.
From your experience, perspective, or research, what are the main causes of burnout?
The main causes of burnout are, in my mind, two different things. First is a major life event like a diagnosis, caring for a loved one with a health issue, military spouses or active duty servicemembers dealing with a deployment, or a very stressful job. These are significant and overarching events that consume a lot of time and mental/physical energy for a person. The second is a slow build or the eventual pileup of too much stress for too long of a period of time. In these cases, it’s not necessarily one key trigger- instead, it’s the straw that broke the camel’s back. Most of us only realize we’re in burnout when we’ve already been there for months but ignored the early warning signs because we convinced ourselves we were “tough enough” to keep going or that we had no choice. Consider an employee who is also going through a divorce and dealing with a health crisis. Each of these things individually is stressful, but one day, it just becomes too much and they submit their two weeks notice because their job and personal life have built up the stress levels slowly but surely together.
Fantastic. Here is the main question of our discussion. What can an individual do if they are feeling burned out by work? How does one reverse it? How can you “get your mojo back?” Can you please share your “5 Things You Should Do If You Are Experiencing Work Burnout?”. (Please share a story or an example for each.)
5 Things You Should Do if Experiencing Work Burnout
- Take a vacation, immediately. Yes, this is not optional. You need immediate time away from your life. If you can’t leave for a long period, look for the support or people who can help you get a four day break. This will help you figure out how deeply you’re in the burnout pit.
- Cut back on any and all optional or unnecessary obligations. That new committee role? Resign. Kid’s classroom party planner? Step back and let someone else take over. Do not let people convince you that “it’s just a few hours a week/month/year.” Dealing with burnout is as much about clearing the mental clutter as anything else. I realized in a recent transition that spending 20–25 hours a week on video calls was zapping all my energy. One of the first things I did in coming back to work for myself was blocking two entire days per week where there are no calls at all. It gives me time to get much more done and reduces the pressure of being in communication mode all day. I realized that the meetings were a big trigger for me in doing this optional obligations audit. Employees should take advantage of this, too if they see a way to improve their mental health or performance by trying something new.
- Do not put a timeline on your recovery. Right after I left a job where I was experiencing burnout, I wanted to bounce back immediately. I was proud of myself for recognizing that I was really unhappy and could no longer grow in that role and I wanted to “reclaim” my life. It took me two full months to emotionally recover from that situation and I had to pause on a few projects. I also had put my body through the ringer and was reeling from the impacts of that, so I couldn’t jump into the heavy exercise plan I wanted. Let your body heal- it will tell you what it needs most.
- Prioritize sleep, exercise, and healthy eating. If you cannot sleep and exercise (even if it’s 15 minute walks and that’s all you can handle) every day will be difficult.
- Know when it’s bigger than you. Burnout can also lead to diagnosis of things like exhaustion, anxiety, depression, and more. There is no shame in acknowledging that these are the impacts from overwhelming stress. You are not a weaker person for experiencing these. Know when it’s time to talk to a medical professional or psychologist to add more tools in your toolbox to address the stress.
What can concerned friends, colleagues, and life partners do to help someone they care about reverse burnout?
Point out how this is affecting their friend/loved one’s life. It has often taken outside input for me to see how something is burning me out. It will usually be my husband or business manager letting me know that I seem stressed out all the time, that I’ve lost my creative spark, or that I’m complaining a lot about general frustrations or a specific situation. That’s when I step back and ask, “Who am I becoming, and do I want to be that person?” This has helped me realize that I need to slow down and tune in to what’s causing the burnout.
What can employers do to help their staff reverse burnout?
Take it seriously and do not blame your employee. Being told that your burnout or overwhelm is a personal thing or that you’re just not doing your job correctly if you’re experiencing that is in no way helpful. I once felt like I had to “make a case” for why I was overworked and this was really disheartening. Worse yet, I tried to share that in multiple different ways and each time the reaction was more along the lines of “so you think you’re working more than other people?” Rather than listening to me and taking it at face value, it was like I was judged for even bringing up the situation in the first place. Instead than jumping to conclusions or looking for ways to root out why burnout and exhaustion just can’t be possible in your vision of your workplace, try seeing things from the employee’s perspective. If someone is coming to you to say they’re feeling burnout, take off your boss hat and switch to your human hat for a moment. They’re not necessarily trying to tell you that they’re underpaid, unvalued, or that your company sucks, but all too often this is where the conversation goes by default.
These ideas are wonderful, but sadly they are not yet commonplace. What strategies would you suggest to raise awareness about the importance of supporting the mental wellness of employees?
Let’s make it normal for people to take mental health days and provide honest forums for feedback when someone’s workload is too much. Unfortunately, we live in a society where we tend to reward taking on more and more and more responsibilities, but we don’t reward when someone turns down taking on more work or says their current plate needs readjusted. It’s almost like a badge of shame to say “I can’t do this” or “I don’t want to do this, the rest of my work or life is going to suffer.”
I’ve seen some companies allow more flexible hours and working arrangements for people who know their personal limits, too. Not everyone needs to work 40 hours a week to be productive or to feel good, so the more employers can offer flexibility, the more people can choose what their mental health routine looks like. Some people might get excited by leaving the office at 3 each day to be there when their kids get home. Another employee might enjoy Fridays off and put in a really focused four day workweek knowing they can look forward to that. And the more we can reduce Zoom fatigue and the exhaustion that comes from being on video all day every day? Awesome.
What are a few of the most common mistakes you have seen people make when they try to reverse burnout in themselves or others? What can they do to avoid those mistakes?
I think jumping right into another thing is a common mistake because even though it’s a new shiny job or opportunity, those same feelings of burnout are still there. Give yourself time or a break in between big projects at work if you can.
In an employee role, I think the pressure to show that you’re performing can lead to a dangerous cycle where we’re always adding more rather than asking if this is a season or month where things can slow down for a little bit. It’s really important for new employees to pace themselves and not get caught in this loop. You can definitely overcommit yourself, making it harder to walk it back in the future after a team or boss has seen that you’re capable of high performance. That high performance becomes the new baseline from which you can never take a break from, and that’s a tiring hamster wheel.
Ok, we are nearly done. You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good for the greatest number of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger.
I’m a big advocate for employment and entrepreneurship opportunities for military spouses. If you can, hire a military spouse for remote work or freelance projects!
How can our readers further follow your work online?
You can listen to my weekly podcast at www.betterbizacademy.com
Thank you for these really excellent insights, and we greatly appreciate the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!