Burnout doesn’t arrive in our lives toned down. Rather, it is ear-shattering. During the day, mundane things seem unexplainably hard. At night, we are slumped on a messy couch, feeling stretched thin and stressed. But burnout is more than job-related stress — it is a debilitating state where the stress ends up affecting our performance and wellbeing both on the job and off of it. It is an individual and organizational challenge that is particularly tough to manage in the midst of a pandemic. But the news isn’t all bad. Let’s take a look at the data.
First of all: If you feel burned out, you are not alone. Many people around the globe are struggling with general and job-related well-being. Increased job demands and lack of social connection are the most reported causes of compromised well-being. Despite this, about one in five people are reporting improvements in their well-being. Key reasons behind this positive change are reduced commute time and more control over work. Research reveals a further silver-lining; and that is that adversity beyond one’s control doesn’t always equal long-term trauma. Instead, most people experience posttraumatic growth — they grow through what they go through.
Mid-pandemic burnout is undoubtedly a negative experience that should be approached carefully. Countries like Sweden — and a handful of other countries — have taken an active approach to the problem of burnout, and it yields some powerful insights into how best to cope with it. And the key?
The key to growth might be something known as “cognitive-behavioural therapy” or CBT.
A study from Sweden in 2019 found that CBT’s role in burnout provided a decent antidote. CBT entails developing skills to shift negative thinking patterns and learn more positive behaviours. Developing such skills means nurturing greater self-confidence, confronting one’s fears, and learning how to identify and reframe unhelpful thoughts. The reason why CBT works is precisely the same reason why a single yoga retreat rarely does: People likely need a set of skills, rather than one-time experiences, to recover and cope better.
While people who suffer greatly should seek help from a professional (and perhaps try CBT that way), others can explore CBT through books and take the bits that fit best into their lives. For example, one handy tactic is the “day-to-day activity chart” used to gain more control and ditch some cognitive burden by carefully planning activities ahead. Another is the “micro-pause” where people focus on physical sensations and emotions whenever doing a practical chore. Another one is simple curiosity about what could be a useful change in one’s life. Whatever your tool-of-choice is, CBT will likely empower you. It will help you make manageable small changes first to prepare for the bigger ones once when you are ready.
Nevertheless, while these skills are very helpful, they alone aren’t enough. The adverse situations causing stress at work must be tackled. Employers should take a closer look at the policies and behaviours that could contribute to the employees’ exhaustion. At Glasswall, we seek to acknowledge this, at the start of the pandemic we asked our employees what help they needed as we transitioned to home working. Feedback resulted in the introduction of a weekly All Hands to keep people connected. A year later, we ran another survey to better understand our employees’ physical and psychological. As a result, we compiled a list of action items ranging from opening a micro office and the introduction of regular movie and game nights into our work schedules. We plan on conducting several more surveys, all with the same goal — to make Glasswall the place that not merely listens, but really hears and takes action to enhance its employees work experience.