Fire symbolising employee burnout
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Beware of burnout: How high performers are more at risk

13 Apr 2017

Have you been killing yourself at work lately? You could be heading for severe burnout.

You don’t have to be in a bad job or even going through a stressful time to suffer from burnout at work.

If you’re working really hard towards a deadline, juggling a number of tasks or working on a really big project, burnout can get the better of you, even if you don’t realise it at first.

Watch out for the signs

Burnout is more than just feeling tired after a long day. It’s actually chronic stress that has an impact on you both physically and mentally. The trouble is that the person suffering from burnout is often the last to notice that it’s happening.

Ryan O’Reilly is a high-performance coach, author and international speaker on performance and resilience. He said that high performers are more at risk of burnout because of their drive to do an excellent job all the time.

“Their personalities don’t tend to lend themselves to do a half job on anything,” O’Reilly said. This, coupled with the inability of the high performer to say ‘no’, adding more work onto their ever-increasing workloads, is why they are more likely to burn out.

“High performers are usually the ones who put in more hours and cancel personal engagements for work.”

This is one of the first things that employees should look at fixing to avoid suffering from burnout, as setting boundaries between work and home life is vital for your health. “In this modern age of ‘always on’, your habits can determine your burnout levels,” said O’Reilly.

“Are you the person that answers emails before going to sleep? Is the phone the first thing you reach for every morning when you wake up? Change one or two of these habits and you’ll most definitely be starting to ‘self-care’.”

‘Burnout leaves us feeling like we underperformed, that we haven’t accomplished anything’

People suffering from burnout will most likely feel physically and emotionally drained. You will probably feel quite fatigued and perhaps cynical towards colleagues, your boss and the job itself, even if you love it.

O’Reilly said you should watch out for lack of focus, higher anxiety about meetings and even physical manifestations such as headaches, heart palpitations and loss of appetite.

“Burnout leaves us feeling like we underperformed, that we haven’t accomplished anything, and this can compound itself to damage our confidence,” he warned.

Help! I’m suffering from burnout

If you’re reading these symptoms and feeling them right now, you could be in the midst of burning out.

O’Reilly said that someone who is already suffering from burnout has to stop and recognise it immediately. “If you keep doing what you are doing, you are going to definitely encounter bigger issues and perhaps even damage your health.”

The first thing you need to do is take stock and find the root of the stress. You should find out what is in your control, such as sleep, exercise and diet.

“Also, try and examine your thought process. Are you overthinking things and ruminating over what someone said to you weeks ago? What can you let go of and make a conscious decision to not give it any more energy?,” asked O’Reilly.

If possible, take some time off and even go away on a break to evaluate how you can look after yourself a little better. Reconnecting with friends will also help your mental health.

Even if you’re not suffering from stress right now, workers are always at risk, especially during busy times. According to O’Reilly, if you see yourself as a high performer, you may not even need a big deadline to cause you to burn out.

Prevention is better than cure

“The ability to switch off from work during the week is vital and it means shutting off the laptop/phone and spending time exercising, time on your own, or time with family and friends,” said O’Reilly.

If you want to avoid burnout, you should also consider writing down a stress-management strategy that you can easily follow after a testing day. Find out what will help you unwind, be it reading, having some herbal tea, a relaxing bath or some meditation.

O’Reilly said that exercise should definitely be one of those list items. “Getting out for a run/walk or playing sport/taking a fitness class is not just a great stress reliever, but it’s also good for the natural endorphins of dopamine, which naturally boost our moods.”

‘The ability to look after yourself is vital’

Think of your body as an F1 engine that needs care to run well. “Eat healthily, exercise and don’t use your body as a vehicle for performance, but as a vital element for performance,” said O’Reilly. “Hydration is also vital to keeping this engine running.”

Decent, consistent sleep over a period of time is essential to help the body recover from stressful or overworked periods.

O’Reilly also advised employees to look inward and examine past stressful situations. “Try to take the positives out of the experiences and be positive in looking forward. This will help you build resilience and to bounce back stronger.”

In order for high performers to avoid getting too stressed, self-care is essential. Every time you burn out, you do more damage to your body and mind. When you do see the signs of burnout, your body is trying to tell you to stop and recover.

“The ability to look after yourself is vital here,” said O’Reilly. “Your future self will thank you for the effort.”

Jenny Darmody
By Jenny Darmody

Jenny Darmody became the editor of Silicon Republic in 2023, having worked as the deputy editor since February 2020. When she’s not writing about the science and tech industry, she’s writing short stories and attempting novels. She continuously buys more books than she can read in a lifetime and pretty stationery is her kryptonite. She also believes seagulls to be the root of all evil and her baking is the stuff of legends.

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