A psychiatrist on clear signs you're headed for burnout, and 5 steps you can take to turn things around

Courtesy of Carlene MacMillanCarlene MacMillan.
  • Carlene MacMillan, MD is a Harvard-trained psychiatrist and the CEO and founder of Brooklyn Minds, a multi-site, team-based, and tech-enabled mental health practice.
  • Burnout is a major health problem – and it can make you less effective at work.
  • To fend it off, don’t micromanage, find peers outside of the office, lead by example with self-care, learn outside of work, and follow your passion.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Burnout is a significant public health problem. According to the World Health Organisation, burnout is a syndrome related to unmanaged chronic workplace stress that presents with a range of symptoms.

And what do entrepreneurs and executives creeping toward burnout have in common? They experience feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to their role, and reduced professional efficacy.

Blamed for up to half of employee turnover and imposing a healthcare cost of $US125 to $US190 billion a year in the US alone, burnout is bad for both business and people’s health. For business leaders who want to cope with this growing problem effectively, here are some tips for addressing burnout, reducing stress at work, and restoring one’s energy outside of the office.


1. Don’t micromanage

Getty ImagesLong-term, it’s detrimental.

While micromanagement can be necessary for short-term situations like onboarding new team members, increasing the productivity of underperforming employees, and controlling high-risk issues, long-term micromanagement can be detrimental to you and your team.

Micromanagement increases the risk of burnout in both employees and the managers doing the micromanaging. Both parties are more likely to work excessive hours, struggle to transition from work mode to home mode, and experience high levels of stress and anxiety.

To avoid micromanaging:

  1. Develop a vision for your team.
  2. Hire people with the right skills for the job and trust them.
  3. Develop solid lines of communication between managers and team members.
  4. Expect mistakes and view them as a learning experience.

Team members given room for self-direction are typically motivated to be more productive – and you’ll experience lower turnover rates.


2. Seek peer support outside of the office

Courtesy of Hero Images/Getty ImagesConnect with fellow leaders outside of the office.

Peer support groups have been shown to have positive effects on self-reported health, burnout, and perceived changes in work conditions. More than half of all executives, CEOs, and entrepreneurs report that they don’t receive any coaching or leadership advice.

The strongest leaders that companies rely on are, more often than not, entirely on their own. It can be difficult for them to seek counsel because the number of in-house peers is limited or they fear unintended consequences. Peer support outside of the office can fill this void. Connecting with entrepreneurs and executives outside of your office can provide a space for shared reflection and strategy.


3. Practice self-care and focus on your health

Jacob Lund/ShutterstockChange starts with you.

When chronic work-related stress leads to burnout, focusing on your health and well-being is a major key to turning things around. This applies at both the individual and organizational levels.

Because institutional change occurs slowly, start with yourself. Prioritising rest, developing healthy eating habits, exercising regularly, and practicing relaxation and mindfulness techniques are a few ways to reduce stress and restore energy.


4. Continue learning outside of work

Hoxton/Sam Edwards/Getty ImagesThinking creatively helps you avoid monotony.

Learning new things outside of the office pushes your brain to make new connections. Sharper creative thinking can result from becoming bilingual, cooking a new meal, or learning to play a musical instrument.

As you continue learning outside of work, your brain will be better equipped to navigate roadblocks that arise at work. Thinking creatively and finding innovative solutions will help you avoid the feeling of monotony, which eventually leads to burnout.


5. Burn-in, not out

ESB Basic/ShutterstockRecognise and hone your passion.

Learning how to recognise and hone your passion – burning in – contributes to improved mental health, and will put you in a position for long-term success. A recent study investigating burnout and emotional exhaustion concluded that harmonious passion – the autonomous internalization that leads to choosing to engage in activities that you actually like – helps protect against burnout. People with harmonious passion come to work refreshed and ready to tackle new problems. To stay motivated, you must pursue meaningful ideas you are truly passionate about.

Ignoring these five tips is a recipe for burnout and high turnover. In the end, healthy personal habits and an organizational culture built around meaningful and rewarding work is the best safeguard against burnout.

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