We are all well aware of the discussions around burnout so much so that The Personnel Perspective offers an in-demand leadership training called Preventing Burnout. Burnout is a “syndrome,” if you will, that comes from the emotional and mental exhaustion that stress and a sense of loss of accomplishment and productivity can produce. Overwhelm and high workloads can be a factor, along with negative thinking, a sense of a loss of identity, lack of control, unclear expectations, dysfunction, a lack of support, and more, are all elements of and risk factors for burnout that we are more aware of as there are more and more discussions around mental health in the workplace.
But what do you do when high workloads and overwhelm are elements of a job that are not changeable? What if you work in an industry that is always impacted, like healthcare or social services, and there is no end of demand and high workloads in sight? What if you work in an environment that is constantly changing and lacks stability such as a job that requires adherence to regulatory requirements, well, such as Human Resources, for example? What if you work in a department that is short staffed and despite pulling out all of the recruiting stops, still no qualified candidates appear? Constant change and feeling like you just can’t keep up with what the latest requirements and deadlines are very challenging.
The answer to some people being able to manage in challenging work environments and others determining that they need to make a change lies in individuals’ abilities to be resilient. How is it that some people can be 911 dispatchers for years and be able to cope with all the emergency and traumatic calls they receive on a daily basis and others become overstressed and burned out in non-emergency administrative positions that are far less demanding by comparison? Or how is it that part-time employees who seemingly have more non-work time can’t cope with the demands of their job? Some individuals have a stronger constitution and ability to cope with stress that comes from a variety of factors, including their upbringing and genetic makeup, environmental factors such as their trauma history and healing or lack thereof, and the skills and support they have or have not had through such turmoil or simply life’s experiences.
How can we help everyone develop more resiliency to be able to manage through challenging times and work environments? Part of the answer is to recognize that resiliency is not something that is developed in a vacuum. It takes a support structure and practice to develop the systems and skills that help build real resilience. Here are three tips to begin with.
- Develop a practice of supporting a culture of mindfulness at work. Neuroscience tells us that practicing mindfulness “enhances cognitive flexibility” (2016, Harvard Business Review), which is key in building resiliency. Building mindfulness into a core workplace competency requires training, skill building, reinforcement, and a culture that supports this type of change in order for it to become ingrained and long-lasting. The benefits of mindfulness are becoming more mainstream, but knowing what it is and actually practicing it and believing in its effect are two different things.
- Taking breaks during which you can detach from what is going on at work is critical to becoming resilient. There is a reason why California meal and rest break laws require that employees have uninterrupted duty-free breaks, besides creating payroll challenges for employers (just kidding). Some studies show that 90 – 120 minutes of focus is the maximum for maximum productivity, and then the brain needs a break to focus on something else. Building breaks into the workday is a good way to allow for the 90-minute productivity cycle. For example, after 90 minutes of focused work time, take a brisk walk around the workplace with a colleague and talk about something not work-related. It is a reset for the brain and nervous system that leads to a period of increased productivity.
- Practice responding rather than reacting. It is not helpful to attempt to repress stress or to run away from negative feelings by using unhealthy coping tools such as those types of behaviors that lead to food addiction, substance addiction, or other types of responses that are ultimately detrimental to health and longevity. What is the difference between reacting and responding? A reaction is a stress-driven response due to increased adrenalin and unconscious habits such as snapping at your kid when they interrupt you. It is a reaction that did not involve conscious thought. Practicing responding means taking a pause to reflect on why you feel stressed and recognizing that stress hormones are at play, finding a quick calming exercise that works for you that recenters your nervous system, and then thinking and choosing how you will respond to the situation in front of you. Neuropsychologist Dr. Caroline Leaf developed the 10 second pause as a tool for this. During the 10 second pause, you breathe in deeply for 3 seconds and say “think, feel” to yourself or out loud, and then exhaling for a 7 second count saying the word, “choose.” According to Dr. Leaf’s clinical research, this practice resets the nervous system and helps the brain develop cognitive flexibility so that you can make better decisions during stressful times, and it only takes 10 seconds.
I encourage you to try out these techniques and let us know how they work for you. If you are struggling with burnout and need help building resiliency at work, reach out to us for professional HR services, including training and facilitated workshops to help you with your culture change efforts
The Personnel Perspective is a full-service HR management consulting firm specializing in human resources and leadership development and training, with expertise in developing facilitated workshops on specialized topics and needs. The firm’s core belief is that a company achieves organizational excellence through its people. Contact us to learn more: (707) 576-7653.