The word burnout is familiar to us, almost all of us associate it with exhaustion and burnout. And yes, we are talking about situations in which our resources are exhausted by the continuous demands of work. It is characterised by physical and or emotional exhaustion, and a decrease in personal involvement in the work environment. Some people have somatic complaints, such as body aches, some stop sleeping or have a non-restorative sleep, as if they never switch off. Some people notice that they are impatient and irritable with everything, or apathetic and unable to concentrate. There is another manifestation of burnout that is especially strange, for oneself and for those around them: a change in attitude towards work - caring and excellence give way to resentment and indifference. The change is progressive, insidious and unfortunately may only become clear when it is ingrained.
Let's be realistic, many jobs involve peaks where we work much harder than stipulated and under worse conditions, but just as our body is prepared to cope with a major threat limited in time, channelling all our effort into it, we can also cope with a few days above our capacities. Burnout does not appear under these conditions, but when the demand is always above the reasonable. And where does this demand come from? It can come from within, it can come from the external factors, and often high pressures from the outside find the conditions for the perfect storm in the perfectionist characteristics that many of us have.
Let's begin with contextual or external factors. Working in difficult physical conditions (long hours in the workplace, poor conditions of comfort and lighting can have a stressful effect that becomes noticeable over the years. On the other hand, working online has other negative effects: the absence of physical and time limits that can lead to the "never disconnecting" from work sensation which some people talk about. And we have the type of organisational culture, mirrored in the leadership styles and the consequent organisational climate, closely related to the greater or lesser probability of developing mental pathology, namely situations of burnout. These are threatening and controlling environments where people feel emotions like fear and shame, where pressure is constant and praise is scarce. And while it is crucial to encourage webinars and workshops on mental health in the workplace, it is even more important to talk openly about the impact of organisational culture and leadership on our mental health. And to keep working on consistency between what is said and what is done on a day-to-day basis.
And what about us, how do we treat ourselves? From my clinical experience I have found that the greatest candidates for burnout are usually very competent people, who deliver "unachievable" results, work long hours and don't do it at a peak, not just in crise situations, but they do it continuously. And they demand this from themselves in all areas of life. They are the people who say "if it's not done right, it's not worth doing". Maximum effort for maximum results, in everything, always. And it's not surprising that this is so. The most widespread messages from childhood in today's society are that "you are special", "you can be anything you want", "there are no limits". Parents and educators do so with the intention of stimulating and encouraging, increasing self-esteem. Paradoxically, the effect is the opposite: we teach youngsters from an early age that we will be able to love ourselves and be self-confident when and only when we achieve brilliant results, showing that we are special and that we can achieve the impossible. I spend a lot of time giving a different view of self-confidence and self-esteem: The goal is to like and trust ourselves even when we don't feel like the smartest person in the room, or the one who achieved the best results. And to compete with the message "the sky is the limit" I argue that we all have limits, physical limits, limits of energy, limits of concentration and limits of cognitive capacity. In order to achieve a very good performance what we need is good management of our physical and mental resources.
Never before have so many people with access to such good mattresses slept so little and so badly. Self-care involves respecting the body's limits, sleeping, resting, laughing and feeling connected to other people on a regular basis. Respect for our limits, self-love and self-compassion in the most difficult moments are necessary conditions for sustainable success and therefore the most difficult and courageous thing of all is to accept our right to fail, to make mistakes, to say "no" and to say "I can't do that". And then, and only then, are we in a position to continuously put effort, commitment and strength into demanding objectives without cannibalising our own resources. In a society where success is so highly valued and where we all want to belong to high performance teams, it is dangerous not to understand that one of its components is caring for ourselves and for those we lead. Reality is here to prove it.