Preventing Burnout and Maintaining Balance During COVID-19

Burnout is on the rise as cases surge and remote work continues. Here's how to manage it.

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As the days get shorter, the weather gets colder and coronavirus cases continue to spike across the country, even the most positive among us may be struggling to stay upbeat. As we look ahead to the potential for many more months of remote work and school, combined with the possibility that typical holiday celebrations may need to be scaled back or cancelled altogether, it is understandable if you’re feeling worn out at home and burnt out at work.

Burnout can manifest itself in many different ways. For me, I often feel unmotivated, less sharp and as if I am just going through the motions instead of truly being present. Not only is burnout exhausting, but it can also lead to health issues, unhappiness at home and not feeling fulfilled in the work that you do.

If you are also feeling burnt out during this difficult time, it is important to reflect and try to understand the root cause of your burnout. I like to start by asking myself a few questions: Am I feeling this way due to personal issues? Has my workload changed? Is my work still satisfying to me? Am I taking the time to put my health and well-being first? Are there external factors that have changed for me recently?

Here are a few specific questions to ask yourself this fall and winter if you are feeling overwhelmed and less than motivated, as well as some suggestions for how to combat this:

1. Is My Workload Unsustainable?

For me, the answer was yes. I found that I was spreading myself too thin by trying to manage a large team of people and coordinate the schedules and projects of several other employees on top of my own workload.

If your workload is the root of your burnout, it is critical that you raise the issue with your supervisor(s) to reset expectations and look to identify ways to better manage your priorities. The goal should be to create more space in your day to complete your work and heighten your ability to be more focused on your most important tasks.

2. Am I Relying Enough on My Co-Workers and Teammates?

Balancing my time and identifying what work was really necessary for me to take on was something I was struggling with. I quickly realized that I manage a team of very competent people and that I should let them do their jobs and empower them to take on more responsibility. Doing this not only gave my team a sense of ownership and fulfillment, but also alleviated a lot of stress from me. Allowing employees to take more control over their own projects lessens the burden on everyone and helps prevent burnout in the long run.

3. Could I Be Asking for Help?

Sometimes burnout happens because you’ve taken on too much and aren’t asking for help. It is important when you have too much on your plate that you share this with your leadership and raise your hand for assistance. Before I agree to take a project on, I always try to make sure that I am setting realistic timelines for my deliverables and will be able to finish the project on time. If I do feel myself getting overwhelmed, I try to identify a way to solve the problem, whether that be by securing additional help from others or pushing my deliverables out to a later date.

4. Am I Establishing Clear Boundaries?

While I am always happy to chip in and help my team, it is important to establish boundaries around the work you will and will not take on, to avoid burning out. The clearer I can be about my bandwidth and the projects I am willing and able to help with, the less confusion and stress will occur among my team. This will lead to more success in my one designated role, rather than being five miles wide and an inch deep.

5. Am I Still Passionate About My Work?

Sometimes, burnout can simply come from no longer being passionate about the work you are doing. Many studies have shown that if you lack passion for what you do or are not utilizing your best skills for your role, you will be unhappy, which can lead to stress and depression. I’ve had to reevaluate the passion for my job at a few points in my career and have actually pivoted to new roles before because of it. Being aware of what brings you joy is critical.

6. Do I Have a Work/Life Balance?

I need to consistently ensure I am balancing my work, family and health/well-being as much as possible. If any of these areas fall out of balance, the impact can be great. The best way I have found to ensure this doesn’t happen is to schedule time for personal activities and establish boundaries on my time outside of work.

I make sure to schedule yoga classes and family time and block them on my calendar, so my colleagues who may be looking for me after hours can see I am unavailable. Sometimes there is a critical project at work that requires me to spend less time with family, but I work to ensure that this is not the norm. I am very fortunate to have an understanding family and boss who support this work/life balance, as it can be challenging for many who don’t have this support.

We all go through cycles of burnout, but if we can identify its triggers quickly and have a plan in place to address them, we can come out the other side with growth and a new perspective. Sometimes, the only way out is through.

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