• Alan Ball

Executive Burnout and how to avoid it !


As part of my MSc dissertation, I have been researching work supporting Psychological Interventions for executives with burnout. Two of my lecturers, Tim Lomas and Ital Ivtzan, published a review in September 2018, and it got me thinking about the practical actions to reduce executive burnout.


"I can't cope anymore" "I always seem to be playing catch up" "I just so tired"


As a leader, you may be even more vulnerable to burnout, a condition that lives at the intersection of overwhelm and sheer exhaustion. We are living and working in a fast-paced culture that rewards busyness. Companies are generally under-resourced, forced to do more with less. Our goals — both professional and personal — are higher. We want to achieve more, to have it all.


While, in some respects, we’re living up to the challenge, it can come at a significant cost to our well-being. Our adrenaline systems are under continuous attack, with little capacity to recover. Overwhelm is a chronic, prevalent problem, and, over time, it becomes unsustainable. We become tired, exhausted, burned out.


Is burnout avoidable? The answer is a resounding yes!


So what signs point to leadership burnout?.


When your energy levels are so low that you feel like you need the entire weekend (or more!) to recover, it’s a clear warning sign that you’re headed for, or experiencing burnout. While putting aside self-care because you ‘don’t have the time’ may seem heroic or selfless, it’s actually the opposite.


Taking good care of yourself actually serves you, and those around you, because it allows you to perform at your best. When you’re in burnout mode, you lose that perspective and do whatever it takes to power through your days. Exhausted, you rob yourself of the opportunity to relax, recharge and rejuvenate, and the downward spiral continues.


Fantasising about leaving your job, especially one that you used to find fulfilling, or losing interest in activities you used to enjoy could be other signs that you’re overwhelmed and on the fast track to burnout. Don’t ignore or underestimate them!


What causes burnout, particularly amongst leaders?


One of the more obvious causes of burnout is when a leader works a schedule that lacks consistent and adequate opportunity for physiological rest and recovery. Burning the candle at both ends, the leader treats themself like a machine that never needs maintenance. This practice is not sustainable over the long haul.


Perhaps a less obvious cause of burnout is when a leader is strongly motivated to drive for results but consistently encounters strong resistance within the organisation. The pushback could be at the top, or it could be in the cultural DNA, or it could be localised to one department. But when a capable, driven leader feels that their hands are tied, that they’ve efforted over and over, with multiple approaches, to no avail, that leader will likely experience burnout.


What proactive things can a leader do to avoid burnout?


The most important thing a leader can do to avoid experiencing burnout is to have a regular routine of self-care.  When I say self-care, a lot of leaders think this just means exercising and eating healthfully. And yes, that’s important, but even more important is that a leader have regular ways of rebalancing and reentering themselves so that when you get off-kilter, you can right yourself again.


Many leaders nowadays have found that a regular Executive Coaching session is one ritual that helps them take care of themselves and protect against burnout.  But that’s not the only way; regular time outdoors, meditation, or wellbeing sessions are all research-proven ways to help leaders prevent a downwards slides towards burnout.


The second thing, in addition to self-care, that I recommend is to regularly unplug from your devices. Once again research has shown us that leaders that completely unplug for one night mid-week, were much more likely to look forward to going to work in the mornings and feel fulfilled at their jobs. Taking one night off a week is a small price to pay for continued energy and it’s also great modeling and permission for your team so they don’t get burned out as well!



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