I’ve recently been exploring further this topic, which usually involves me reading books with a highlighter in bed, on the tube, in dentists waiting rooms... Perhaps that makes me a geek….but I’m hopeful that it also makes me better at recognising what's happening with others too😊
I hear both of these words regularly these days when discussing work, work culture, stress and the impacts these things can have on us as humans. Do we have enough resilience, should we learn how to be more resilient? How can we prevent burnout? What exactly is burnout?
The two are quite different. Resilience being the ability to manage and deal with challenging situations that happen to us, such as being made redundant, not getting the promotion we wanted, receiving negative feedback or experiencing the failure of a critical project being delivered for a client. With the right skills and mindset, despite the unpleasantness of the situation, people with a good level of resilience will be able to respond to situations in a more pragmatic, self-serving manner that acknowledges what has happened, but uses the experience as an opportunity to grow, re-assess, make changes and move forwards, even though they may be feeling metaphorically knocked and bruised. It is more than ‘bouncebackability’, which I think Chumbawunba ‘ articulated well his 90’s song ‘Oh Danny Boy: "I get knocked down, but I get up again".
Resilience is the ability to acknowledge and learn from failure or difficulty, to work through it and come out the other side stronger, rather than just getting up, shaking it it off and carrying on as before. Without resilience, there are only so many times we can keep getting up with the same level of energy.
Burnout is a different situation. Feelings of true burnout are more chronic and go way beyond feeling tired or needing a holiday; it is not generally something that can be cured with a week or two off. Burnout is often the culmination of months or even years of self-inflicted pressure and consistent expectation around achievement that we have either placed onto ourselves, or have had unrealistically placed upon us by our employer and that we have accepted. In other words, we have chased standards that are often so high that we are constantly striving to reach them, fail to celebrate and take time for self-care when we do, or berate ourselves if we don’t get there.
After long periods where excessive expectation and workload has been imposed upon us either by ourselves, or by an organisation, then we may have burnt the candle so far one way that there’s no clear way back. Burnout can also be the long-term result of a person taking on a role where they lack the critical skills, effective support system, or when there’s a values mis-alignment that puts them in conflict with their ‘why’, or ethics around the work they are doing.
We often aren’t aware of the prolonged impact of either situation on ourselves mentally and physically until it’s too late; at which point our bodies shut down because they can no longer survive in a constantly heightened state of fight or flight (stress) and our nervous and immune systems become compromised.
Depending on the severity of the burnout, people can respond in many ways, from exiting their career altogether, physical exhaustion, depression, sickness and other side-effects.
Recognising some of these signs before it becomes too severe an issue could help prevent a full burnout and keep the individual / and or the workforce functioning effectively.
Whilst many workplaces are talking more than ever about the importance of mental health and wellbeing, leaders and their teams together will benefit from making a more personalised and proactive approach to preventing burnout before it sets in, especially within organisations and industries that are by nature demanding, highly expectant or competitive.
Wellbeing can be quite personal; what’s positive for one may not impact another. Finding time for and articulating clearly to your manager what you need, whether it’s a morning walk, breakfast with your family, a lunchtime workout, a development course or an hours extra sleep, could make a difference. It doesn’t so much matter what you do, it’s that it works for you and you do it consistently so that it gives you respite, time to decompress and re-energises you effectively so you can continue to perform. If it’s a values conflict, then that could signal time to change companies, managers, or pivot careers.