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Tips for Addressing Burnout in the Workplace

A woman is sitting at a table with headphones on and a laptop.

​Robert Bogue, president of Indiana-based technology company Thor Projects, and Terri Bogue, the company's chief operations officer, have both experienced burnout in their lives. They've dealt with high levels of stress that created personal and professional challenges for them.

Over time, they learned to manage their priorities to prevent the physical and emotional exhaustion that leads to burnout.

"For instance, I'm a private pilot but I don't fly because I don't have time for that aspiration," Robert explained. "You can do that with everything you have. Say, 'I can't do the family vacation. I can't do this. The math doesn't add up.' "

On June 12, Robert and Terri led a concurrent session, "Extinguish Burnout and Ignite Engagement," at the SHRM Annual Conference & Expo 2022 in New Orleans. The session aimed to equip workers, HR professionals and business leaders with the tools and techniques needed to help them prevent or recover from burnout.

"Burnout occurs when your internal fire is out and you have no more fuel left," Robert said. "It can result in a negative attitude, a lack of productivity, high stress, a lack of teamwork and a negative transparency."

Recent studies show that burnout is increasingly common in the U.S. Among workers surveyed in the American Psychological Association's 2021 Work and Well-being Survey:

  • 79 percent experienced work-related stress in the month before the survey.
  • Nearly 60 percent reported negative effects of work-related stress, including a lack of interest, motivation or energy and a lack of effort at work.
  • 44 percent reported physical fatigue.
  • 36 percent reported cognitive weariness.
  • 32 percent reported emotional exhaustion.

"We have this perception of how much time we have to give different people in our lives," Terri explained. "But sometimes we get out of balance with reality. Your perception of what you should be able to do might not match reality."

5 Ways Employees Can Combat Burnout

A combination of family, work and social stressors can contribute to burnout, which can impact workers at all levels, including business leaders. Robert and Terri offered several ways in which workers can avoid or reduce burnout:

  • Change your attitude. Are you thinking about momentary challenges or the long-term results? Try to maintain an optimistic point of view when dealing with work challenges.
  • Reframe your perceptions. Robert explained that many people harbor false perceptions of the expectations others place on them. What beliefs do you accept as fact that are just your perceptions?
  • Give yourself some credit. Robert asked, "Would you let anyone talk to your best friend the way you talk to yourself? Probably not." It is OK to give yourself a pat on the back for great work.
  • Focus on self-care. This includes maintaining a healthy diet, exercising regularly, taking mental health days and seeking professional support when needed.
  • Find ways to limit your demands. There are ways we can manage the demands we place on ourselves, Terri said. For example, why do we always say "yes"? It's OK to admit when you cannot handle something, whether it is a work or personal task.

"We need to make sure our expectations, perceptions and results match," Terri said. "When they don't, that's when we experience burnout."

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How Employers Can Help

Business leaders play a crucial role in helping workers avoid and overcome burnout, creating a positive work atmosphere and igniting engagement:

  • Recognize great work. Let your employees know when work is done well—and do not let them downplay the significance of their accomplishments.
  • Offer support. Create a culture in which seeking help is encouraged. In addition, proactively ask workers what you can do to help them perform their jobs better and avoid unnecessary stress.
  • Promote a healthy work/life balance. Life happens. Let your workers take time to deal with personal responsibilities. As Robert said, "It is important for a leader to demonstrate their own work/life struggles."
  • Set realistic expectations. Robert emphasized the importance of placing realistic expectations on what a company's workforce can accomplish and understanding that an increased workload may require changing deadlines for other projects.

"To prevent burnout, we as leaders need to engage with employees and give them a rest from time to time," said Jamilu Dawaki, deputy director of HR for the Central Bank of Nigeria, who had traveled from Abuja, Nigeria, to attend the conference. "That will help them do their jobs better in the long run."

In 2019, Robert and Terri released a book on preventing burnout, Extinguish Burnout: A Practical Guide to Prevention and Recovery (SHRM, 2019), that aims to help all workers deal with stress that can result in burnout.


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