Overwhelmed by work, lack of sleep, societal and economic issues, loss, and the uncertainty for what lies ahead, we are, unsurprisingly, seeing individuals reporting and experiencing burnout at astronomical rates during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Dr. Teralyn Sell, psychotherapist and brain health expert, dives into what burnout looks like and how it affects our brain health. “Burnout is a term that is used to define what happens behaviorally when someone is under chronic stress. Burnout can look like an employee who is disengaged, calls in sick, underperforms (after being a good performer), and someone who is basically shut down. Burnout might feel like a sense of numbness, not talking to family or friends, shutting down after work, a foggy brain, lack of energy, depression and anxiety,” says Dr. Teralyn Sell. “When a person is under chronic stress, cortisol, or stress hormone, will begin to blunt. That might feel like difficulty getting out of bed in the morning or an afternoon slump. When that happens, our neurotransmitters will become imbalanced, our hormones will also change, and our immune system will be compromised.”
Leaders and managers should be prioritizing workplace happiness and balance, while also fostering their employees’ overall wellbeing. Doing this can help increase productivity and overall workplace satisfaction.
“Workplace leadership can play a crucial role in the overall wellbeing of their employees simply by paying attention to their behavior,” says Dr. Sell. “Additionally, supporting employees taking breaks, leaving on time, and using vacation time is important for productivity. An overworked employee is going to be less sharp and ultimately less productive. Allow for flexibility. Some antiquated ways of doing business are just not conducive to life in 2021. Often, the only thing that keeps flexibility in the workplace from happening are ideas that ‘that’s not the way we do it.’ If that is the case within your organization, really engage in some critical thinking about it. Perhaps you are missing some opportunities to increase the happiness of your employees by allowing that flexibility to work from home or adjust schedules to participate in their child’s after-school activities.
“One final thought is to encourage the health and wellness of your employees by advocating for some exercise throughout the day. Opting for sit-to-stand desks, under the desk treadmills, and bike pedals will help them with creativity, energy, and better mental and physical well-being.
“If you are in workplace leadership, set the example and do the same for yourself. Recognizing when an employee is struggling and offering services, such as EAP [employee assistance program], can likely save a job, and a person,” says Sell.
Here are Dr. Sell’s top three tips for people looking to combat workplace burnout naturally:
TIP #1: Set work boundaries
A fatigued brain might want to work longer because not enough work got done during the day. Staying late (or working late at night) is a sign that you might be heading to burnout. It is unrealistic to assume that work is the most important thing in your life. Eventually, it will sap your energy, motivation, and joy. Putting a hard stop time to your workday is crucial to ending burnout.
TIP #2: Take breaks and eat
So many people don’t take breaks while they are at work. Thoughts get the best of you here. Taking a break to fuel your brain will actually keep your thinking brain online, it will keep you sharp and energetic. Alternatively, not fueling your brain and taking a break will create a higher level of stress and fatigue. You are likely to get more work done in a shorter amount of time by taking breaks rather than by powering through.
TIP #3: Get moving
Research is very clear that sitting at a desk all day is bad for your physical health as well as your mental health. If you sit for long periods of time, make sure you are able to get up and move on your breaks. Additionally, if you can, opt for a sit-stand desk or even an under-the-desk treadmill or bike pedals. Your productivity will be enhanced when those feel-good chemicals are at work.