Labor Day pays tribute to the contributions and achievements of American workers and is traditionally observed on the first Monday in September. It was created by the labor movement in the late 19th century and became a federal holiday in 1894. As the holiday approaches this year, American workers report stress and burnout at all-time highs.
An online survey conducted by The Harris Poll for Samsonite in July of this year reported that 56% of the 800 employees polled said they feel burnt out at work. And a new Gallup-Workhuman report found that 25% of employees describe being burned out at work “very often” or “always.” A recent Freshworks’ Bloatware report said that 82% of IT professionals are burnt out, and more than 36% were the most burnt out they’ve ever been in their career. Once burnout takes hold, it’s difficult to recover quickly. So follow these 10 Commandments to reduce the cumulative effects of unmanaged work stress and offset burnout.
- Thou shall H-A-L-T. When signs of fatigue take hold, stop and ask yourself if you are Hungry, Angry, Lonely, or Tired. This alert signal can prevent cumulative stress and bring you back into balance. If one or a combination of the four states is present, slow down, take a few breaths and chill. If you’re hungry, take the time to eat. If you’re angry, address it in a healthy manner. If you’re lonely, reach out to someone you trust. And if you’re tired, rest.
- Thou shalt not zoom in. A broad perspective allows you to build on the many positive aspects of a workday. Think of a camera. You can replace the zoom lens—which focuses on your stressors—by putting on a wide-angle lens which absorbs stressors by helping you see bigger possibilities. Identify a complaint you have about something. Perhaps your mutual fund isn’t worth as much or you have to pull several all-nighters to get caught up at work. Once you have the complaint, put on your wide-angle lens by pulling up the big picture and seeing the complaint in the larger scheme of your life. As you broaden your outlook, how important is the judgment you made? If you’re like most people, the complaint loses its sting when you put it in a wider context.
- Thou shall give thyself micro doses of self-compassion. One of the best medicines against stress and burnout is regular doses of kindfulness. An arm around your shoulder is good medicine to co-exist with your inner critic’s oppression—not someone else’s arm; your own supportive arm. Talk yourself off the ledge as you would speak to a close friend when you’re uncertain; give yourself an “atta-boy” or “atta-girl” after success; soothe yourself after you slip up, miss a deadline, or forget; throw yourself a thumbs-up every time you finish a project, reach a successful milestone, or accomplish a goal. Studies show that attacking yourself after a setback reduces your chances of rebounding. Instead of attacking yourself, a self-compassionate voice helps you bounce back and contributes to your engagement and productivity.
- Thou shall have a “to-be” list. The compulsion for constant doing defends you from feeling unpleasant emotions and gives you safety and security even if the task itself is satisfying. When you commit to a less stressful life, you notice you can just be without requiring yourself to constantly do. Make a “to-be list” to accompany your “to-do” list. Watch a sunset or a bird build its nest, listen to nature sounds around you or feel a breeze against your face. These activities recharge your batteries and contribute to job success.
- Thou shall set lifelines along with deadlines.When you set lifelines, you don’t over-schedule. You put time cushions—chances to breathe, eat a snack, go to the bathroom or just look out the window—between work tasks. When you have lifelines instead of deadlines, you’re less likely to hear that whooshing sound as deadlines go by or feel that sick feeling in the pit of your stomach for “always” being behind. Your days become less hurried and harried, and you enjoy them more.
- Thou shalt not use what-if’s. Your body bears the burden of bad news. If you’re like most people, you make up negative stories—called “what if’s”—about what the future holds before it ever happens: “What if I can’t reach the deadline?” or “What if I get a bad performance review?” When you do this, the body bears the burden. Think of a “what if” hounding you right now. As it whispers to you, notice what happens inside your body. Your stomach might flip-flop or your chest might tighten. Now reverse it. Whisper to yourself a positive prediction: “What if my business flourishes?” or “What if some good comes from my hard work?” Again, notice the difference of how something lifts in your body. It also bears the burden of potential good news.
- Thou shall unplug. Managing your electronic devices instead of letting them manage you can offset stress and burnout. Unplug at the end of the day and set boundaries to protect your personal and private time. Use custom ring tones for those you want to reach you after hours. Limit the number of times a day you check email or text. And ease up on instant messaging so you don’t create the expectation that you’re available 24/7.
- Thou shall learn to say no. Draw the line when someone asks you to do something you don’t have time for. Tell yourself there’s a limit to what you can do and put the rest out of the picture. Start to see this attitude as strong burnout prevention, not a weakness. When you say yes but mean no, you’re not taking good care of your mental or physical wellness and it leads to over-commitments.
- Thou shalt not multitask. Studies show that multitasking isn’t what it’s cracked up to be and in fact that it takes longer to go from one task to the next because of the added time to refresh your memory of each task. People who focus on one task at a time are more efficient, productive and effective at work-life balance. And they’re less likely to burn out.
- Thou shall practice gratitude. Whatever we focus on expands. Making a gratitude list takes you out of your narrow perspective, opens the big picture, gives you a new take on life, and calms you down. Research suggests that written versus verbal appreciation is more effective because the visual representation allows the brain of both the sender and receiver to register the gratitude more deeply. Make a list of the many things you’re grateful for—the people, places, pets, and things that make life worth living and bring you comfort and joy. After you’ve made the list, contemplate on your appreciation for each item and visualize anything you might’ve taken for granted—things that if you didn’t have would leave your life empty. As you practice this exercise, notice that you feel a deeper appreciation for life, you’re calmer, and you can feel the unburdening in your body.