While burnout is difficult to quantify as it has not yet been fully recognised as a clinical term separate from stress; its medical term, “work-related stress” or the dreaded HR acronym “WRS,” has clearly been around for a while now. The Harvard Business Review states that some studies have shown that burnout can affect as many as 50 per cent of medical house officers and goes up to a worrying 85 per cent for those working in the finance sector. A 2017 ComPsych survey in the US showed that three in five employees are highly stressed.

The major problem is that burnout, as WRS is more commonly called, builds up slowly, simmering beneath the surface and waiting silently as you suppress because you’re trying to be more efficient, or productive or simply because you’ve got so many things going on that being invested in your work actually gives you a false sense of grounding. There are three signs of burnout according to Dr Christina Maslach’s study together with several contributing colleagues: exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy.

Exhaustion is made up of physical, cognitive and emotional fatigue and is triggered by the pressure of having too much to do and the anxiety that accompanies a high-performing job with multiple demands. Also known as depersonalisation, cynicism is a means by which you disengage psychologically from your work in order to protect yourself for excessive stress: it is an erosion of engagement. High conflict, a sense of unfairness and a lack of involvement in decision-making leads to a sense of detachment and negative feelings. When you’re plagued by feeling of inefficacy it’s usually because the other two variables in burnout have got you well in their grip: a lack of achievement and productivity if accompanied by a sensation of incompetence and a fear that you’re losing your edge.

So how do you avoid all this while remaining engaged at work as sustainably as possible? Here are four main ways to stress-proof your working life and change the meaning of WRS to “working robustly and sustainably”:

  1. Practise self-care

It seems obvious enough when you read it, but looking after yourself and prioritising your physical and mental health is crucial to living a better, happier life. Indeed, most of our local CEOs interviewed recently have made it clear that they wish to incorporate more exercise and mindfulness into their routines. It’s not just a fad. Having a “mens sana in corpore sano” is a belief that’s been around since the Roman empire – and they knew a thing or two that we might benefit from with all our contemporary AI revolution. A better diet, coupled with a healthy, sustainable amount of exercise, makes for better sleep and a more rested body. In turn, this allows you to think clearly and if your thoughts are clouded by too many things at once, then mindfulness in one way or another will help you de-compress and make sense of the day. Not everybody is a yoga-pants and incense kind of person and that’s ok. Find a hobby – any pastime that allows you to unwind and make time for it. Attempting to achieve a healthier work-life balance cannot be achieved in a single sweep. You need to build up to it so the next step is incredibly important.

  1. Set boundaries and avoid stressors

While at work, make sure that you set clear boundaries and define what is achievable and how long it will take. And learn to say “No.” Not out of rudeness, but because outlining your limits and capabilities will actually allow you to prioritise what truly matters without having everybody rely on you because you’re always willing to drop what you’re doing to lend a hand with their needs and demands. This will make you more efficient and productive and allow you to manage and schedule your time properly. You don’t have to worry about being the office grump nobody likes to ask for a favour, however. Scheduling your work better can allow you to leave space in your timetable for a collaborative slot where your reputation as a go-to person can be maintained and cultivated. Reset expectations with colleagues, clients and even family members and while some push-back is unavoidable, you need to persist if you want to make things work for the benefit of your mental health. Unrealistic deadlines need to be managed into a better system and if your are not senior enough to do so, ask your manager for help on this. Keeping a dialogue open and running is essential and it’s one way of allowing you to feel connected to your company and industry. In fact, you really should try to follow the next tip.

  1. Find your people

Create strong connections with work colleagues whose support and input bring value to your working environment. If you feel you have a good working relationship with a colleague built on trust and mutual respect, then you know that person will have your back. Make sure that you also keep communication flowing with your manager and with the other members of your team. When you can keep others in the loop about how you’re performing and how you feel about it, and get honest and constructive feedback about it, then you’ll feel much more confident and productive and this will enhance your efficiency, your sense of self-worth at work and eradicate feelings of inefficacy. Mentoring others and being mentored yourself creates a positive cycle which will help you feel valued and valuable to others. Be sociable at work too and make the time for a quick coffee and a chat during break or lunch time. If you can spare the time, join a sub-committee for a specific cause close to your interests and connect with others in this manner too.

  1. Step back and reassess

Finally look at what is toxic in your work environment and actively try to weed it out, confront it or otherwise manage it better with the help and advice of the connections you have made. It is not a one-person job. Delegate and redistribute tasks, avoid micromanaging or being a micromanager by putting more trust in others and that trust will come back to buoy you up when you need it most.

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