This post is a part of our three-part series where we investigate employee burnout. Through hundreds of hours (and counting) of interviews, and a successful program, we’ve gathered real-life insight into how to alleviate burnout as well as its warning signs and underlying causes.
If you’re feeling exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed in your job, there’s a good chance you’re burned out. And for better or worse, you’re not alone. Employee burnout is an epidemic plaguing professional culture in the U.S.
According to a Deloitte study, 77% of employees say they have experienced burnout at their current job. And although we rely on vacations, job transitions, or the hope for a new, less-toxic boss to alleviate some of this stress, our research indicates that these “solutions” may keep you in this unmotivated, low-energy state.
The reality is that in order to actually alleviate burnout, you have to understand the underlying source. Just like with any chronic physical, mental or emotional condition, the pain of burnout will persist despite the quick fixes.
In previous posts, we’ve helped shed light on the signs of burnout and what it really is as well as the three different “flavors” of burnout people experience. The reason it’s so important to differentiate these three different types is because often times, people assume external changes will help, but what our research discovered is that it often begins with your mindset—an inside job, if you will.
In this post, we’ll build on these three types of burnout, highlight some common misconceptions about them, and provide ways you can alleviate them.
Understanding the three types of burnout
Before we dive in, let’s review, at a high-level, the three types of burnout. If you’d like more context, be sure to check out our previous post on what burnout really is and what it means.
At its core, burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion. It occurs when you feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. The three common types of burnout are:
- Toxic work environment: One type of burnout is directly related to your environment. Perhaps you have a corroding company culture or overly controlling boss—whatever it is, a change in environment could help address your burnout. Change your job, change your state of being.
- The short burst: This is for people who may be experiencing exhaustion in their job but can see an end in sight. Perhaps you’re at a critical growth stage or pushing through a busy season. The “short burst” burnout can be supported by a deliberate and thoughtful routine that helps manage your everyday energy. Think proper sleep, meditation, exercise, time with family and friends, and doing other hobbies that you enjoy.
- The achiever: This one is the most difficult to alleviate and the most common of them all. As an achiever, you’ve come to expect work to make you happy. However, over time you realize that no matter how much energy you put into your job, these needs are not being met.
Common misconceptions about burnout
Now that we’ve covered the three types of burnout, here are some of the classic pitfalls you should avoid:
- Confusing one type of burnout for another. It’s common to think that you’re simply in a temporary stage of burnout, using self-care to help ease the tension. But as soon as one sprint is over, another one evolves and soon, you’re continuing this pattern of exhaustion. It’s likely that if this happens, you’re actually experiencing achiever burnout, constantly putting expectations on yourself to power through.
- Thinking your burnout is all about those around you. This gets to the heart of understanding what kind of burnout you are. It’s easy for us to blame our external environment for the way we’re feeling and dismiss our own level or responsibility. Even if we’re in a toxic environment, we usually have some level of agency to leave or communicate what we need to be happy. It’s important to ask yourself the hard questions about what is the real source of your exhaustion.
- You can brute force or “hustle” your way through burnout. Again, this is often the byproduct of being an achiever. You continue to exert all your energy on powering through and optimizing time, attempting to get just a bit more work done. what you think is a temporary experience. When in reality, you’re depleting the little energy you do have, creating an unsustainable loop of hustling.
- Thinking a vacation will cure your burnout. Time off can certainly help you feel better, but it does not address the underlying root cause. Plus, we’ve often heard stories of people feeling worse on or after vacation. If anything, use this vacation time to reflect and examine what is really causing this burnout and what you can do about it.
How to alleviate burnout as an achiever
1. Map your mindshare
Because burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion, you need to get an objective look of how you’re using your mental and emotional energy. To do this, start with a visual. Create a physical depiction of all the areas of your life that take up mental space—aka your mindshare. Be sure to differentiate the areas of your life that give you energy and areas that deplete you.
This picture can take many forms. It can be a pie chart, a spreadsheet, a mural—whatever works for you. One of our favorites is drawing a house with each room representing a different area of your life. What matters most here is just getting down what’s taking up energy and understanding that mindshare isn’t just about time spent on these things, it’s about the weight these things carry on your mental energy.
After you’ve created your mindshare map:
- Celebrate what’s working.
- Examine what’s not working.
- Ask yourself, “How have you conspired to create the conditions you say you don’t want to do?”
It’s not about feeling guilty or blaming yourself, it’s simply about illuminating a path to creating real change. This is where you have control.
Need some inspiration?
See some example mindshare maps from people in our program.
2. Examine the beliefs you formed about work during childhood.
Your expectations of what work should provide you are often based on the beliefs (implicit and explicit) you have about work itself. To uncover them, create a life timeline—a chronological listing of key moments in your life, with a particular focus on ages 5-10. This age range is important because it’s when our brains are highly sensitive to our experiences. As you create your life timeline your intuition will guide you to which experience are most significant.
For these experiences, ask yourself:
- What did I learn from these moments or experiences regarding work, money, your self-worth, belonging and stability?
- What expectations do you have for your work? In what ways does work meet those expectations? In what ways does it meet them?
3. Construct your Lifehouse
Your Lifehouse is the vision of the life you want to live—not just work, but all the different pieces of your life including family, hobbies, and your impact on the world. This vision can be hard to create in the abstract, so we like to use an analogy of a house to make it more concrete.
Aim for a time two years out and create a Lifehouse that will help direct you as you move forward.
Here’s how to create a Lifehouse:
- Write your own eulogy. Sure, a little dark—but this gets to the heart of what you really want to accomplish in life.
- Write down all the parts of your life that you think you want to include in your Lifehouse and force rank them.
- Map how you want your mindshare to look in the image of a house.
To get deeper direction on creating your mindshare and Lifehouse, check out our full video.
4. Start with one thing
It’s easy to look at your Lifehouse and want to take everything on at once. But in order to make real progress forward, it’s important to start with just one thing.
Here’s how you narrow down the list:
- List out the changes you want to make.
- Map all of them on an impact vs. effort graph.
- Pick one thing (most impact for least effort) that you can implement in the next two months.
Once you start with one (for example “get to bed by 10pm”) and eventually you’ll notice that focusing on this one thing will create a momentum, allowing you to more easily implement other items on the list.
Here’s an example of my graph. By focusing on “Bed by 10pm” I noticed that all the other items came a little easier.
5. Get support and employ a system to keep going
After you’ve made changes to your first thing, you’ll start to build the confidence you need to make your Lifehouse a reality. You won’t want to stop and you’ll feel this boost of motivation with each change that gives you the energy to make the next.
It’s important to put scaffolding on this system to keep it well supported.
Here’s how you can maintain a system:
- Regular check-ins on current state vs. desired state (monthly at first, then quarterly)
- Enlist support (partner/spouse, friend, accountability buddy, group)
It’s important to surround yourself with a cheer squad of sorts to support you when you’re experiencing the inevitable ups and downs of this journey.
If you’d like more insight into how you can alleviate burnout and how to begin this process today, sign up for our email newsletter below or check out our program, HUMAN FIRST.