How to avoid burnout during COVID-19

By Leya Snider 

Feeling flat, disengaged or ineffective at work? You could be experiencing burnout.

Of course, this would not be surprising given the COVID context, as we are all likely feeling the effects of ongoing restrictions and continued feelings of uncertainty about what the future will bring.

Burnout is the outcome of prolonged exposure to stressors on the job, usually occurring gradually over a long period of time. However, as the current crisis continues to drag on, many of us have found ourselves working harder than ever, dealing with constantly shifting goalposts and juggling additional responsibilities at home.

Consequently, our workdays seem to be getting longer and longer, and our recovery time shorter and shorter, with those work stressors taking more of a toll than ever before. This means that unless we shift our approach to work in these coming months, many of us risk burning out before the pandemic’s end. 

So how can you tell if you are at risk of burnout?

There are three key warning signs that you should be looking out for in yourself, and in your colleagues:

  1. Cynicism – feeling uncharacteristically irritable or detached from your sense of purpose at work.
  2. Inefficacy – feeling like you’re dropping the ball at work or becoming overly self-critical.
  3. Exhaustion – feeling overextended, tired and depleted, or not having enough energy left for friends, family and hobbies.

If you think you may be experiencing one or more of these symptoms, it’s likely to be linked to an imbalance in one of the six areas of work life, which are: workload, control, reward, values, fairness, and community. While it is rare to find a perfect balance across all of these domains, more often than not, it is possible to take some proactive steps to bring some areas back into balance.

For example, when you are getting down and dispirited about the quality of your work, it is often a simple thing to get some objective feedback, either from clients or trusted colleagues, to rekindle the sense that your work does matter.

In addition to taking steps to correct imbalances, it can also be beneficial to find ways to enhance your recovery outside of work. When workload is high, it can be tempting to sacrifice your recovery time to try and get on top of that work that has been piling up. While this may feel like a good strategy, it can often be a trap. When we don’t build in enough recovery time, we are less efficient, less able to deal with unexpected stressors and are unable to properly consolidate new skills and knowledge. Investing time in things outside of work also helps us to broaden our interests and maintain perspective, and importantly provides a range of coping and social resources we can fall back on. 

It is also important to remember that burnout can be contagious so can be passed on to others through informal interactions on the job. We all have a responsibility to manage our own impact, as much as to manage the impact of others on us. 

In our Safeguarding Against Burnout webinar, we take a deep-dive into the signs and symptoms of burnout, and the ways in which the six areas of work-life can trigger and perpetuate burnout symptoms. We discuss practical strategies for managing burnout and enhancing your recovery so that you can continue to be your best self – both in your work and at home.