by Nadia LAWS
If you’re feeling tired, overwhelmed and overburdened, you’re not alone.
According to Latisha Lister-Burgess, Executive Director of the Employee Assistance Programme of Bermuda, burnout is at an all-time high due to the increased demands and stressors faced by parents, caregivers and everyday workers throughout the pandemic.
She shares her tips on how to spot the signs of burnout and stop it in its tracks…
Royal Gazette: Experts are always talking about the Great Resignation, where large numbers of professionals are leaving their jobs. Is that partly because of burnout?
Latisha Lister-Burgess: Definitely. I think the misunderstanding about the Great Resignation is that people are looking for more job benefits, but really people are looking for better life balance. After having two years of stress brought on by COVID, many are still recovering from the traumatic experience of being isolated, in-and-out of lockdown and in quarantine. The pandemic forced us to live in a very different way than how we function naturally as humans. Then there was the unspoken pressure that many employees felt, like they had to prove that work-from-home was possible, so for some people there was more work and less boundaries. There was this constant pressure to answer another email or jump on another meeting, even if it was scheduled at 7pm. The question is: did you do that prior to the pandemic? Probably not in some cases, so the lines were definitely blurred. On top of that there were competing pressures added in, like parenting. Before the pandemic, many schools allowed parents to drop off their child before 8am, however support services like that have mostly disappeared. As a result, some people are saying ‘I can’t do this rat race anymore.’
RG: Through your role at EAP, you speak to a large number of employees. How are they coping or not coping with all these additional pressures?
LLB: There’s very much a sense of ‘how do I keep this all together.’ For many people they have gotten burnt out from trying to keep all the balls up in the air and are thinking: ‘What’s the cost to me: my personal life, emotional and physical health and my family.’ Some companies have created safe spaces where employees can talk about these issues. However, others have not and the pressures are still there. People are coming to a place where they have to decide for themselves: is this truly working for me?
RG: How would you describe “burnout?”
LLB: Burnout is an interesting phenomenon because it feels like stress. People think if they work harder things will smooth out, but we create more pressures for ourselves and we start spinning faster but becoming less productive. The more we fall behind, the more we run to try to catch up. With burnout it’s important to stop and assess what’s possible. You have to ask: do I still have healthy boundaries? Is this work-life balance something I can manage? Do I have a village of support to help with what we need? People wait until they’re completely exhausted before they make necessary changes, but I encourage people to do a life assessment every three to six months to look at what’s happening in their life right now, how they feel and whether everything that’s on their plate can be carried in this season of life. Can I be a PTA president, a CEO, a working mom and a volunteer? Or which of those roles or commitments cannot sit at this table right now because it’s not all possible?
RG: Who is burnout most likely to affect?
LLB: In my experience people most at risk of burnout are usually high performers. They feel this strong internal pressure to show and prove ‘I’m still a star.’ They want to go above and beyond to meet others’ expectations. But what we all have to realise is capability and capacity are two different things. Yes, I’m capable of running a company, having children and doing life, but do I have the emotional/physical room and the time to do it all well right now? When we keep getting asked to do things, we think it’s a sign we should show our ability. However, the fact that people ask you doesn’t mean you are indebted to say yes. You are responsible for assessing: is this a reasonable request for this season of my life?
RG: What are some of the physical signs you may be overwhelmed or burnt out?
LLB: It really depends on the individual and how their body handles stress. Some people lose weight because they are constantly skipping meals, while others gain weight. The key is to understand the unique signs for when your body is under stress. It could be biting nails, insomnia, tightness in the chest, feeling like your mind is racing or like you can’t turn it off, over-productivity or even waking up at 2am. There are individual warning signs that your personal engine light is coming on. Once it starts flashing, you have a choice to make: either stop or keep going and risk burnout.
RG: If someone gets to that place where they are burnt out, what are the steps they should take to reverse course?
LLB: I encourage people to have real conversations and to find safe spaces where they can say ‘I’m not okay.’ Therapy can be very helpful because there’s often an emotional component to why people keep saying yes. They may be addicted to people-pleasing or believe subconsciously that their value is tied to their productivity. So the better you can understand ‘why’ the better positioned you are to do something about it. Another important step is to start creating better boundaries. Look at what’s on your plate and what brings you joy versus what makes you feel stressed or burdened. It may mean having those brave conversations at work and saying ‘I know I’ve always functioned this way, but I can’t do that anymore.’ We often have more agency than we think, but it’s only when we feel comfortable saying ‘I’m entitled to having a happy, healthy life’ that we start making radical decisions.
RG: Is there something employers can do to better support their staff with burnout?
LLB: I think organisations have to respect people’s boundaries. A lot of the time employees feel if they say something they’ll get into trouble, but if they feel safe and supported they can speak up before it’s too late. I also encourage companies to tell employees what support options are available in their benefits packages, like free counselling or massages through their health insurer. This information is usually tucked away in a handbook somewhere, but not promoted well enough so that employees can use it to their full advantage.