Professional burnout has been a major worry for the millennial generation. Some of us quitting our jobs as we hit our 30s, others are feeling overwhelmed by the stress and unpredictability that come attached to the salary slip in today's world. While there is no denying that we are living in far more unpredictable times, with vague job profiles and constant need to learn new skills to stay relevant, I feel our burnout is not merely due to the responsibilities we have at work. In fact, most people probably want to do an honest day's work and no one wants to have a job where you are relaxing most of the time. We like to be in jobs where we need to take charge and get things done.
Professional burnout is mostly a result of being paranoid about perfection, being a victim of office politics, attaching meaning to every inane thing said at the workplace, the constant fear of being watched, and evaluated for every move, continuously over-thinking how you are perceived as a professional. The worst of it is that a workplace may demand us to work out of character every single day and leaders without proper training in personality assessment, different thinking and performance styles, often tend to misjudge their team members creating a chain of negativity that stresses out the employee.
Companies think that giving more days off, and taking people off-sites would solve the problem of burnout. Of course, people in general should be given a lot more offs than we are allowed as of now to maintain a work-life balance. At the organisation level, empathy training and educating team-leaders about emotional intelligence can go a long way in bringing down collective stress and burnout levels. To avoid premature burnout, there are a few things that we as individuals also need to manage if we find ourselves in unpredictable situations and free up cognitive space for purposeful work.
1. Deal with your fears in creative ways: We carry fear in every cell of our body. And our response to most things is tempered with fear, loads of it. Be it being offered a promotion, or a transfer, a new role, or a simple call to the boss's office, fear is usually our response to even things that might turn out to be positive. The thing with fear is that often the response is an out of body experience, not rooted in authenticity but some sort of survival tactic. Fear not only impedes movement, it also numbs you down. Whenever in fear, shake yourself off it through empowering visualisation and an intense bout of physical movement.
2. Avoid being on auto-pilot: Being conscious is the only option we have to live a sane life in an era when we are trained to function on auto-pilot. Breathe and frequently relax muscles even when you are chasing deadlines. The other option is to gorge on chips and cakes to get you through a difficult day at work. A less physically fit person is more vulnerable to frequent feelings of being overwhelmed by life. Choose which one is more life affirming.
3. Frequent switching of tasks is an assault on your brain. It prevents deep work and also leads to fatigue compared to work done with a singular goal. Given we are juggling many roles at work and at home, before you switch, try meditating and normalising your breath for five minutes before you get on to the next work. Not all of us are writing a thesis, or penning books. Some of us are simply managing people and teams and have more dynamic profiles. Before you switch, allow yourself a few moments of tranquillity. Which brings me to the next point...
4. Whatever pressure you are working under, your centre of gravity has to be your humanity, especially when you are dealing with people. There is a personal cost we pay when we strip our humanity while dealing with others, and merely seeing them as a means to an end. Treat every human being as if they were made of glass and that you have to be careful with them — each of them, irrespective of the power equation you share with them.
5. Most inter-personal problems are problems of attribution error. If someone shouted at you, or was mean to you, or did something faintly that was out of line that offended you, didn't respond to your mail, or didn't stick to their promise — whatever it is — don't spend a single minute explaining their behaviour — positive explanation or negative one — in your head. The one-sided conversations you have on someone's behalf in your head is a criminal waste of time and your cognitive energy. Best is to be curious and ask honest questions.
6. And finally, don't over-explain yourself. And definitely not at work. Over-explanation is an apology in disguise and takes up a lot of your cognitive and emotional energy. Stop doing it.
(The writer is a mental health and behavioral sciences columnist, conducts art therapy workshops and provides personality development sessions for young adults. She can be found as @the_millennial_pilgrim on Instagram and Twitter.)
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