I see a lot of burned out employees – people who are emotionally, relationally, and physically worn down. Responsible individuals who have "given all they've got" (usually in multiple areas of their lives) and don't have much, if anything, left to give.
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Being burned out doesn't have much to do with the type of work you do. Burned out employees exist everywhere: medical settings, schools, law enforcement, insurance companies, long-term care facilities and hospices, financial institutions, mining companies, and intercity social service agencies, just to name a few.
How can I tell they're worn out? Here are the symptoms:
A general lack of energy. They look tired. They act tired. They sigh a lot. If they sit down, they look like they would love to stay there for hours (or go take a nap if they could).
A sense of frantic busyness. Even though they are tired, they tell you what they have been doing (usually a lot), and they tell you how much more they have to do – but they don't have the time to do everything they need to.
They apologize a lot. They apologize for being late. For their house or office being a "wreck." It often isn't (but sometimes it is). For not getting "x" to you earlier. For forgetting to bring something to the meeting. For not being able to help out more (Note: Many burned out people are overly responsible individuals who take on more and more tasks in multiple areas of their lives. While they do get a lot done, they wear themselves out doing so.)
They have physical problems or a general lack of well-being. They look tired and sometimes disheveled. They have gained weight. They are out of shape and have quit exercising. As a result, they are often having other medical issues – diabetes, sciatic pain, shortness of breath, chronic pain in their extremities, etc.
They have problems managing their emotions. This looks different across individuals. Sometimes it is irritability, frustration, or anger. For others, discouragement, apathy, or depression are shown. Others can get sad, anxious, or feel lonely. There are lot of variations.
How do I know so much about people who are burned out? Well, I've been there before – and I still visit "Burned Out Land" occasionally.
What Can You Do About Burn Out?
What can you do to re-energize? Here are some initial steps to take:
Acknowledge it. You are running too fast and have been for a long time.
Share you observation and get affirmation from those close to you. It is helpful to share your struggles with those in your daily life so they can understand what you are experiencing and support the steps you take to make things better.
Take one step back. Don't try to change your whole life. It won't work (yet). But do something for yourself, something small that will rejuvenate you in some way. Take a walk during lunch. Take a long bath. Get together with a friend you haven't seen in a while. Whatever gives you a little energy (preferably not food or alcohol), do this for yourself.
Stop and observe how good it feels to do something for yourself. This is a critical step that rejuvenates the body's energy, just like eating or sleeping. We need to replenish our emotional energy, and this should be a normal part of our lives.
Think of one more action you could do for yourself. Determine when you will do it (e.g., this coming week). Making progress is the result of taking a series of steps. The first step is good; two steps are better.
Repeat steps four and five as needed. Becoming burned out is usually a slow process that occurs over time. Digging out of that hole is also a process of small steps taken over time.
Will these steps resolve the imbalance between the responsibilities you have taken on and the emotional resources you have (or don't have) to deal with them? Probably not, but they will give you the mental bandwidth you need to start thinking about the actions you need to take to get back into balance.
It is a start – and a good one. Try it.