Beat Burnout

Dr. Samineh I. Shaheem (BA Psychology 1994)

‘It didn’t happen over night,’ explained Majid, a senior director of a recruitment firm. ‘Some people talk about this as if you suddenly drop like a fly or something - nah, it took 8 years in the rat race to dry me out. I gradually became more withdrawn, demotivated and just sick of life till one day I almost exploded. Thank God it still wasn’t too late to get help. You got to make changes…you just can’t go on like that.’

‘Burnout’ has become a familiar buzzword as psychological illnesses and work-related stress force companies to rethink their sometimes unrealistic expectations, like having to answer emails between delightful or deranged dreams at 3.00 am. What burnout refers to is a harmful reaction people have to excessive pressure and demands placed on them at work and their inability to effectively cope with the escalating challenges so eventually they feel utterly exhausted and suffer from both physical and psychological symptoms.

An interesting debate here is whether reaching a ‘running on empty’ phase is more related to one’s level of strength and personality traits or the work environment? Let’s consider both and perhaps you’ll be able to draw a more accurate conclusion after reflecting on your past experiences and observations as well.

This job is driving me crazy!

Occupational factors contributing to stress and burnout include ambiguous job description, heavy workload, lack of personal control, recognition and rewards, unrealistic demands, poor communication, narcissistic and/or incompetent leadership, unfairness and conflict in values.

Is it me?

Some personality traits assist in overcoming occupational stress and/or burnout and ‘grit’ is one of them. A person with grit is one that enjoys a strong commitment to work, friends and family. They can exert control over their life events and perceive different situations as challenging rather than terrifying. They’re ambitious and resilient, and don’t allow mistakes or setbacks to knock them down. General self-esteem is another characteristic defined as the individuals overall appraisal of their worth leading to a cumulative positive or negative attitude towards the self i.e. Do I think I am capable, significant and worthy or am I inadequate, unworthy and deficient?

Be it personal or environmental, experiencing chronic job stress can lead to burnout, which in turn has adverse physical health consequences such as cardiovascular disorders, gastro-intestinal complications headaches and hypertension. It might also lead to changes in behavioural outcomes like excessive smoking, increased alcohol consumption, relationship problems and sleep disturbances. On an organisational level various complications might arise such as absenteeism, lowered productivity, reduced job commitment, high employee turnover, decreased job satisfaction, decrease in profit and a possible breakdown of the institution.

Equally significant, if not more debilitating, are the psychological consequences such as anxiety, depression, emotional exhaustion, mood disorders, dissatisfaction, lowered self-esteem.

Fortunately, due to the research attention burnout has received in the last couple of decades, strategies for prevention and cure on a personal and organisational level have been extensively discussed. Here are a few of the most central tenants to consider:

  • Has your passion turned to poison? Assess the impact your current job has on your physical and psychological health. Do you have a purpose and still enjoy what you do?
  • Know whether you are more of an introvert, extrovert or ambivert and recharge your energy accordingly.
  • Don’t forget to completely disconnect from technology at least once a day. Put your laptop away and turn off your phone. When was the last time you just stared out of the window?
  • Eat and sleep well because both are necessary for physical and psychological functioning.
  • Participate in self-development workshops. Stress management, coping skills training, emotional intelligence or any other topic you find inspiring.
  • Seek support. Talk to someone you trust about your feelings and work situation.
  • Have a clear job description and set boundaries. Don’t overextend yourself. Learn how to say “no” to requests that are out of your job scope.
  • Actively address problems. Action, rather than procrastination, is the key. Assert yourself and express your needs when things get out of hand. If you don’t have the authority or resources to solve the problem, talk to a superior.
  • Bored? Seek novelty and be creative. If your job has become monotonous, ask to be part of a new initiative.
  • Take time off. Go on vacation or have a staycation if you would like to limit spending. This time can be used to recharge your batteries and objectively think about your career.

In recent years, remarkable economic, political, technological and cultural forces have transformed the nature of our jobs. As an employee or an employer, being aware of these changes and acknowledging the significance of work-place stress is essential so that cases of burnout could be more like breakthroughs about human behaviour, unrealistic expectations and the importance of achieving a work life balance.

 

Samineh Shaheem

Dr. Samineh I. Shaheem is the Learning & Development Director at Kawader, assistant professor of psychology and the owner of Life Clubs UAE. She has studied and worked in different parts of the world, including the USA, Canada, UK, Netherlands, and now the UAE. She co-hosts a radio programme on 103.8 FM Dubai Eye (Psyched Sundays, Voices of Diversity 10-12pm) every Sunday morning discussing the most relevant psychological issues in our community. Twitter: @saminehshaheem/Facebook: Life Clubs UAE.

 
 
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