When we start our IT careers we are full of hopes and dreams. We dream of working in huge companies around the world, and we’re willing to learn anything and everything to prove how valuable we are to an IT giant! We take risks, and we make plans, we’re brave and fearless, and no obstacle can stop us. No mountain is too high to conquer, no river is too wide for us to swim across.
All this sounds great… until we start to overdo things, we take on more and more responsibility, we don’t take enough breaks, and we can’t say ‘no’ to colleagues… This is when we start to feel stressed out and the first signs of professional burnout start to appear.
No industry is going to be a smooth ride, and there is no job that is completely stress free. Even the IT world has its stressful points!
Work is going to be a place where stress is inevitable, but stress can be dealt with and it doesn’t have to get out of hand and turn into burnout, or chronic work-related stress as some call it!
Burnout can happen to anybody, but if you know how to deal with it you’ll be able to conquer it in its early days. We have listed some helpful tips below that you can practice now to stop yourself from falling into professional burnout. And if you are already feeling some effects of burnout, try the tips below because it’s never too late to try and learn something new.
What is Professional Burnout?
Professional burnout, or chronic work-related stress, is when a person runs out of emotional and mental resources.
Burnout is characterized by a complete loss of interest in any professional activity and by feelings of meaninglessness. An individual who is suffering with professional burnout does not see any future development for themselves, they also feel overwhelmed by their duties at work, and they typically feel empty. There is certainly no desire to keep doing things that have previously excited and inspired them.
This term was first coined in 1974 by US psychiatrist Herbert Freudenberger. He called this ‘loss of interest’ and ‘apathy towards work’, ‘burnout.’ He saw it as a state of physical and/or mental exhaustion caused by professional activities.
Many scientists have continued to conduct research in this area, for instance, Christina Maslach. In fact, the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) was later developed by Christina Maslach and Susan E. Jackson, and it’s the most common assessment tool used to identify the level of occupational burnout someone has.
The MBI claims that burnout consists of three components: emotional exhaustion, cynicism, and becoming detached from one's role. Emotional exhaustion is when a person is emotionally drained by their work activities. Cynicism may result in an increase in negativity (thoughts/actions). Detachment is when an individual no longer feels connected to something, for example work, and instead they feel separated from it.
How to prevent professional burnout?
In order to prevent burnout it makes sense to find out what causes it in the first place.
Generally there are several reasons that can cause professional burnout, these include working long hours, not taking breaks, having too much work, thinking of work as pointless, losing contact with a team, feeling that your opinion is ignored, and feeling under appreciated. Additionally, it could be a mixture of various reasons too.
As soon as you know the reason for professional burnout you can work towards reducing it. Below are some ways to prevent professional burnout.
- Take regular breaks from work and when in work
To keep yourself healthy you need to take regular breaks when in work and take holidays from work too.
This will help to relax both your body and your mind. Plus it’s a good little distraction away from work!
A short 15 minute break will help the thinking process, and it’ll help your brain to concentrate on the task in hand. After a break, you can get back to your task with renewed mental energy! This will be very helpful to those whose work involves monotonous and repetitive tasks.
- Give yourself an opportunity to relax
By relaxation we mean to literally do nothing. Don’t try to overburden yourself with reading, watching a film, and try to stop scrolling through your newsfeed! This is not relaxation because your brain keeps consuming information and it has to process it.
Go for a short, slow walk, look at flowing water, or just simply lie down. There is nothing wrong with doing nothing, honestly.
Don’t even think about calling yourself lazy because every person has the right to relax.
Alternatively, try some light physical activity, like cleaning or yoga.
But remember — your body may be working physically but your brain has to relax.
- Give up the things that make you more stressed
We all have habits, some habits are better than others but some are just there to cause us more stress.
Drinking too much coffee, scrolling through our newsfeeds round the clock, and always being online are habits of a working person who lives in the 21st century. However, these habits can cause individuals great stress!
While we accept that it isn’t possible to stop doing these things, it’s possible to reduce these habits. For example, drinking less coffee, will allow you to relax and sleep better as you are not being kept awake by caffeine. Good sleep leads to you waking up refreshed and ready to go to work!
Mental health is also incredibly important, so surround yourself with things that promote good mental health. If you find things in your environment stressful try not to spend too much time in the environment.
- Do some exercise
Typically the simplest of exercises, including breathing ones, can calm our minds and relax our bodies.
It has been noted that five or ten minutes a day spent exercising can lead to improved physical and psychological comfort. That’s no time at all, and I’m sure everyone can find a few spare minutes in their busy schedules.
- Talk to your colleagues
We often underestimate how supportive we can be for each other. So, do talk to your colleagues at work if you are feeling sad or low.
First of all, it’s great to talk about our worries with other people. It’s nice to be listened to and to be heard.
Secondly, you may discover that a colleague feels the same way, so you have a chance to discuss your worries and to find solutions together.
- Learn to say ‘no’
Professional burnout can occur because we overburden ourselves with too many tasks, and too many short deadlines.
First, there is no need to do everything immediately! Many tasks can be postponed, and/or delegated to other people. If you do everything at once, it will soon have an impact on how you feel.
Secondly, learn to say ‘No’.
Many people find saying ‘no’ in everyday life and at work very difficult. Why?
Because people genuinely don’t like saying ‘no’, people feel like they will be branded as incompetent if they say ‘no’, some people fear saying ‘no’ because they may never be asked to help in the future, and some people just aren’t sure about their duies at work, so they have to say ‘yes’ to everything.
You can practice saying no over time until you get used to saying it without worry - you’ve just got to keep working on it.
Remember, ‘No’ is a completely acceptable answer to give to someone. Don’t worry about saying it because you’ll make yourself unwell if you take on too many responsibilities.
- Find value in your work
Try to find value in your work, and make sure you see how valuable you are to others.
People need to see how their contribution is actually changing the lives of those around them.
Humans are social beings, and our self-worth depends on how our activities affect the world, and/or other people. Nowadays, the main tool that allows us to influence the world around us is work, so, our jobs need to be seen as valuable and meaningful by us.
If you see real value in what you do, you may never experience occupational burnout, because you’ll love what you do and you’ll have a purpose to work. Caring for others is a core element of working happily ever after.
Don’t believe us, check out this book ‘Bullshit Jobs: A Theory’ which was written by anthropologist David Graeber. It’s all about meaningless jobs that are psychologically destructive for a person.
So… some final thoughts
There is no secret recipe to help you avoid professional burnout, but if you know the cause of it you’re already halfway towards finding a solution to the issue.
Real-life is very busy and there will be all kinds of things that’ll cause professional burnout, there could be too many deadlines, business needs, debts, and many more things that we cannot account for.
However, the tips above can come in handy, and they may well be what you’re looking for to stop yourself from suffering professional burnout right at this moment.
Remember that as long as you receive positive feedback, see that what you do is important, rest regularly, exercise, talk to each other, and learn to say ‘no’ you can keep pushing ahead with work - no matter how hard it may seem.