High levels of workplace stress have left many seeking advice on how to prevent burnout. Feeling anxious about deadlines, presentations, or a busy schedule every so often is normal and can positively drive us to perform well. However, when stressors in the workplace are negative, constantly overwhelming, and inadequately managed, they can affect your emotional, physical, and mental well-being.
Burnout happens when stress—specifically work-related stress—is poorly managed. A person suffering from burnout will have bouts of unexplained feelings of exhaustion, negativity, and cynicism. They will also start having a distant approach to work, which would eventually lead to an overall decrease in work performance.
It may take a few months of acute stress or a few years of moderate stress for burnout to set in, but once it has developed, it takes at least four months to recover. Many employees can take much longer to fully recover physically, emotionally, and mentally.
Due to the severe and often underestimated consequences, it’s clear preventing burnout is better than trying to cure it. If you or your employees are experiencing constant negative stressors in the workplace, use these strategies to help you improve stress management and prevent burnout.
1. Identify Your Stressors
Identifying the signs and causes of stress early on will allow you to manage and deal with triggers before you or your employees are completely overwhelmed. As a manager, look for changes in employee conduct such as irritability, increased absenteeism, tardiness, withdrawal, or other uncharacteristic behaviors.
Work stress can be triggered by a number of factors. Employees may feel the work demand is more than they can handle or the resources to perform their job are inadequate. They may also be working long hours without taking any breaks. Physical conditions—lighting, space, noise, and uncomfortable temperatures—and psychological conditions—inappropriate behavior, verbal abuse, and unrealistic or conflicting demands from different managers—signal poor working conditions and increase stress as well.
A lack of support from management, poor communication, questionable job security, and a lack of clarity regarding roles, procedures, changes, and responsibilities can also trigger stress.
Taking action to deal with the underlying causes and symptoms of stress will minimize the risk of losing an employee temporarily or permanently and reduce the effects this may have on the entire department. Educating and supporting staff in dealing with stress and preventing burnout should be part of your management strategy.
Whether identifying your own stress triggers or helping an employee, note all situations, objects, or people that cause discomfort. Then start identifying ways in which these can be managed more effectively.
2. Develop a Priority List
Whether it’s your desk or your schedule, disorganization can increase stress and lead to procrastination. Identifying your priorities can help you get things done more efficiently and be an effective stress management tool to help prevent burnout.
Take time daily or weekly to prioritize tasks, meetings, and responsibilities. Categorize them according to priority or urgency. Spread your workout in a manageable time frame as opposed to overloading your schedule with no room for error.
Identify tasks that can be delegated. This may include giving tasks to a junior employee who will benefit from the experience, or it could entail hiring an external party to take care of important responsibilities that are not receiving the attention required due to being rushed or pushed aside. For example, Helpware allows you to outsource back-office functions to improve the speed, accuracy, and efficiency of business processes, which saves you time and money and can take a huge burden off your shoulders. Helpware customizes its service support to your business needs, from recruitment to accounting and marketing, so you can give your full attention to your priority tasks.
There are likely to be some tasks on your list that are purely out of habit or maybe even unnecessary. If tasks or meetings are simply time-stealers and of little-to-no benefit, get rid of them. Learn to respectfully say no and set healthy boundaries when you don’t have the time to take on any extra responsibilities.
Make time in your schedule to relax and do the things you love to do. Spending time with loved ones, exercising, or participating in a hobby is just as important to your productivity and can boost your output and creativity. Sometimes checking in with yourself to understand why you are taking on so much and whether it is truly benefiting you can help you gain renewed perspective to align your goals and prevent burnout.
3. Separate Your Work Life From Your Personal Life
With the massive shift to remote and hybrid work arrangements over the past couple of years, setting firm boundaries between work life and personal life has become not only essential to maintaining a work-life balance but also more difficult. Since work life and personal life now happen from the same place for many, it’s easy to simply hop onto your computer after hours to quickly check an email or get into a habit of being available 24/7. This can be especially tempting for those working across different time zones.
To prevent burnout, setting simple boundaries such as not checking emails after hours and clearly defining the hours you are available to colleagues can make a huge difference. Take small breaks during the day and, where possible, separate the space you use for work from your living area. Whether this is a completely separate room used as an office or simply a section of a room or desk used as a dedicated workspace, this can help you transition from work mode and give your family your full attention without being constantly distracted on either front.
When you struggle to focus, your productivity decreases, mistakes are made more easily, and relationships suffer because you are never fully present at work or at home. This becomes stressful.
Working remotely has many benefits, but it still requires the same level of consistency as on-site work would. Not only is consistency important so others respect your boundaries, but establishing a daily pattern will also help your body and mind transition more easily between work and personal time. For instance, faking a commute by taking a walk before you clock in and after you clock out can help your mind reset.
4. Set Aside Time for Rest and Relaxation
Experiencing a high-stress situation at work or home puts your body into fight-or-flight mode, a sympathetic nervous system response that heightens your senses to perceived danger. It’s the same response you feel in genuinely dangerous situations, like being chased by a grizzly bear. This may result in raised heart rate and blood pressure, increased cortisol release, and slowed digestion. It’s the body’s way of responding to a threat, allowing you to escape dangerous or uncertain situations quickly.
In our modern-day culture, we are likely to experience this numerous times daily in high-pressure situations. If you are constantly in a fight-or-flight response for a prolonged period, this can start to affect your hormone levels, physical health, emotional well-being, and mental capacity.
Resting, on the other hand, activates the opposite, the parasympathetic, nervous system. It stabilizes your blood pressure and hormones, improves mental clarity and emotional calm, and rejuvenates your physical health. Although holidays are important, taking an expansive (and expensive) vacation isn’t necessarily the answer when considering how to manage stress, especially if you aren’t taking time daily or weekly to recharge your batteries in small and simple ways.
This looks different for everyone. Some people relax and recharge by going for a run, while others may prefer to grab coffee with a friend or read a book. Regardless of the way you unwind, the benefits are significant. Like with other muscles, your brain functions less effectively when fatigued; rest improves your mental capacity and productivity. It boosts creativity and problem solving, can restore your emotional capacity to handle stressful situations in a healthy way, and prevent burnout.
Regardless of your job or schedule, getting enough quality sleep is another essential factor in avoiding work burnout. A fixed sleeping schedule with a regular bedtime routine that includes unplugging electronics an hour before bed can contribute to more rejuvenating sleep.
5. Build a strong support network
Surrounding yourself with a supportive family, peers, or a few good friends can make a huge impact on your emotional and mental well-being and your ability to combat stress in a healthy way. This, in turn, increases happiness and satisfaction in your life and even your job. These relationships often develop in a casual and relaxed manner and provide the comfort of knowing someone is there for you if you need them.
Social isolation is associated with an increased risk of poor physical health and mental well-being. A supportive social network can enhance self-esteem, alleviate the effects of stress, and encourage healthy habits.
In the same way, it’s important to ensure your social network has a positive effect on your lifestyle and behavior, rather than steering you in an unhealthy, self-sabotaging direction. This is not supportive and can affect your work, personal relationships, and overall health.
Cultivate healthy relationships by staying in touch, but don’t overwhelm your friends with calls. Be a good listener, show you appreciate them, and be available when they need you.
6. Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself
Consider a child who wants to learn a new skill, but their teacher keeps calling them stupid, humiliates them, and points out every mistake. The child will most likely start to believe they are incapable or give up altogether. Being yelled at for failures despite trying has never energized anyone. In the same way, being hard on yourself for not achieving what you set out to is not a helpful strategy.
If you want to prevent burnout, the key is to be gentle and show yourself some empathy. Allowing for failure can give you the strength to get back up and try again. Reinforce perseverance and resilience with motivation and by acknowledging what you did achieve. Support starts with yourself, and compassion is a better motivator than cruelty. When guilt for not achieving a work goal or completing your to-do list creeps in, it destroys your self-worth and has a negative effect on your attitude, social health, and mental well-being. Reiterating that you are trying and want to succeed will benefit you much more than telling yourself you are no good.
The unfortunate truth is that you won’t always get it right. In these cases, treat the experience as a learning curve to see how you can improve next time. Keep in mind that improvement is not a linear or overnight process. It requires commitment, failures, and being gentle with yourself along the way.
Manage Work Better With Helpware
Many people feel like they just don’t have enough time in the day to get through everything they need to do. Being able to hand some of your work responsibilities over to a person or team you can trust to do it well can relieve a huge burden and help prevent burnout. However, many employees have a hard time delegating work because they don’t trust the job will be given the attention it deserves if passed on.
In comes Helpware, which provides transformative back-office support customized to your business needs, providing expertise in the required areas, attention to detail, and supplemental staff that’s 100 percent dedicated to your work. Whether you require assistance with training, recruitment, marketing, onboarding, order processing, administration, research, data entry, or customer support, Helpware ensures a combination of the right technology and passionate people to bring your business to life.
Knowing back-office tasks are in excellent hands can free you and your team up to focus on other important duties with improved efficiency, heightened creativity, and reduced stress.
The impact of burnout can be long-lasting. Contact Helpware today to discuss how we can help take the burden of work overload off your shoulders while giving each task the undivided attention and professionalism it deserves.