Are you exhausted, stressed and isolated at work? Do you drag yourself into the office each day? Are you irritable and impatient with co-workers and clients? Is your productivity compromised by chronic low energy and fatigue? Do you lack job satisfaction?
If you feel that way, let me assure you: First, if you’re unhappy, you’re not alone. Secondly, it’s likely not you, it’s the job.
I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve felt this way off and on throughout my career as a physician executive working in corporate America. Realistically, few of us arise in the morning excited about the workday ahead. There may even be days when we just can’t bear to get out of bed to go to work. Many of us hate our long hours, our difficult commutes, or a demanding boss. We lack autonomy, and we don’t feel in control. We wind up feeling run down and exhausted and hating our jobs.
It’s called burnout, and it’s a major problem for companies across multiple industries in America.
Workplace burnout is more than just fatigue, and it goes beyond having a bad day, a bad week, or even a bad month. Burnout is characterized by a chronic state of emotional and physical exhaustion as well as strong feelings of frustration and powerlessness. Those suffering from workplace burnout tend to withdraw emotionally from their work, lose motivation, and become less productive.
Burnout is a condition of the modern workplace. It happens because most of us work too much. Part of the issue is because companies are trying to become more productive with less personnel. It also happens because we are never truly “off.” Modern technology means we are constantly tethered to our jobs. The need to be on call 24/7 and to work six or even seven days per week is no longer restricted to high- level professionals such as physicians, lawyers, and business executives. In our modern, global corporate environment, to meet our company’s cross-cultural needs, employees in many functional areas are expected to have such availability.
Burnout is pervasive across varied professions and throughout corporate hierarchies. And not only is it not good for employees, but it’s not good for companies themselves. Management worries about employee satisfaction and retention. Costly churn can be devastating for corporations. Meanwhile, satisfied employees feel a connection to the organization’s mission, purpose, and leadership. So how can we get there?
There are some things that companies can—and must—do to reduce burnout among their employees.
First, fostering a climate of health and wellness is paramount. It can be something as simple as encouraging employees to take breaks throughout the day or as formal as offering yoga and meditation programs at the workplace. Managers also need to establish and maintain boundaries with employees in terms of availability; not everyone needs to be accessible at all times. Additionally, there need to be systems put in place for employees to ask for help when needed, whether that’s pulling in another colleague on a project as necessary or being able to be transparent with a boss about some roadblocks that are proving to be insurmountable. Corporations also need to shift their focus in evaluating employee success, by asking, What is this employee accomplishing? Activity and accomplishment are not the same, and equating busyness with results is a trap in which too many find themselves.
Corporate cultures can be slow to change, so employees, too, can help manage burnout by making some adjustments in their lives. A few tips:
· Take regular time out for yourself each day to relax and unwind.
· Set aside at least one hour each day to “switch off” from technology.
· Establish boundaries so you reduce how often you overextend yourself. Learn to say no.
· Reevaluate your goals and priorities so you include activities in your daily routine that support your happiness.
· Reach out to supportive people in your life to talk and to receive support.
· Don’t compare. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of Joy.” It’s simple and true.
· Be grateful. Gratitude is an affirmation of goodness. It leads to forgiveness and paying it forward.
Personally, I have found that my yoga practice, which includes pranayama (yogic breathing), asanas (postures) meditation, and philosophical study has helped me to unify and relax my mind and body so that I am better able to manage workplace stress and uncertainty. I even do yoga in the middle of my work day, as it’s possible to undertake such a practice without a mat or working up a sweat. It can be short, sweet, and done at your desk.
A focusing exercise, for example, is quite simple and can be done at a desk chair. Start by taking a comfortable, seated position, making sure your spine is straight. Gently close your eyes. Take a long, deep breath in through your nose, and exhale out of your nose, two to three counts longer than your inhalation. How do you feel? Lengthening your exhalation is the fastest way to calm the mind, soothe the nervous system, and balance emotions. The slower you breathe, the quieter your mind will become.
It’s easy to make excuses and claim we have no time to practice, but in truth it simply takes these sixty seconds to help yourself feel calmer and more focused and grounded. I encourage you to try it. An investment of a few seconds may lead to a different and more desirable outcome in a future situation.