Are You Burning Out?

Stress has gained a reputation as being a bad thing. ‘I’m really stressed out’ or ‘Don’t get stressed’ are common phrases around the workplace. While it is often the case that people do feel under stress, it is normally too much stress (as with too much of anything!) that causes us problems. Stress is actually an important element of our daily life, without which we would not find the motivation to undertake the basic life saving activities.

If you consider the stress curve shown here, you can see that your performance is directly related to the amount of stress you are under: As the amount of stress increases, you reach a point know as the interest threshold. Anything below this level of influence does really affect you on a concious level. At the interest threshold, you are physiologically aware of something and respond appropriately. If you become hungry to the point at which you notice the feeling, then you have reached the interest threshold and will generally respond by finding some food. If you wait to eat, your interest will be drawn to food at every opportunity. Listen to anyone on a diet and you will hear then focusing on food more and more as their ‘hunger stress’ increases.

It is the same with most elements of personal performance. As the stress increases, you awareness and performance increases until you are performing at a peak level. In his book Flow:The Psychology of Optimal Experience, Mihály Csíkszentmihályi suggests that the point of peak performance is when the individual experiences complete absorption with the activity at hand and the situation. This is supported by the peak of the graph where the stress is at such a point that you are focusing only on the information necessary for the task in hand, totally engrossed in the moment.

As the stress increases, you become overstressed and your performance degrades. After a prolonged period of stress, or even a short period of extreme stress, you reach a point of burnout.

There are several causes of excessive stress. Some of these are presented here but this is by no means an exhaustive list:

  • Overwork

  • Lack of control

  • Lack of support

  • Lack of rewards

  • Insufficient rest time

  • Criticism

  • Insufficient positive feedback

  • Change

  • Uncertainty about the future

  • Lack of personal achievement

Excessive stress can affect you in 4 ways:

  • Emotionally – creating tension and irritability

  • Physically – induces stomach pain, ulcers or headaches

  • Mentally – by impairing logic and thinking skill

  • Behaviourally – making you change the way to act

It is important that as individuals and and as managers that we learn to recognise the warning signs of stress in ourselves and our team.

There 4 stages of over stress and burnout:

  • Stage 1 – Excessive enthusiasm for the task and a reluctance to take holidays and time off. This can lead to self doubt and fear of being unable to cope or to being unable to refuse new work. The work itself becomes a distraction for the stress and this often has am impact on output quality and a person’s family/personal life.

  • Stage 2 – Short bouts of irritation and tiredness. Complaints about the team’s input and quality of work. Increased working hours as a further coping mechanism and inability to measure time or time manage.

  • Stage 3 – Increased discontent and anger, apathy and a lack of emotional commitment. Exhaustion, reduced commitment to work and life in general.

  • Stage 4 – Withdrawal, illness feelings of failure and depression. Reluctance to communicate and increased isolation sometimes dropping into alcohol and drug abuse.

The key is to identify when you or a team member is beginning to suffer the early stages of burnout and act. Reduce or remove the workload, change their environment or encourage them to take a holiday.

Dare to Aspire

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