How leaders avoid burnout

Burnout leaves the victim flattened. Overwhelmed by a feeling of emptiness and drained of motivation, he believes he is hemmed in and unable to accomplish anything of significance. He sees himself as overworked and undervalued and, is therefore, not willing to make further sacrifices. His passion departs, his energy leaves, his creativity takes a flight, his interest in developments around him plummets, and his emotion is sapped. The feeling of dissatisfaction, helplessness, sadness, irritability, failure and self-doubt is on the rise. The victim is detached from others and does not want to associate with anyone. At this point, if it is not arrested, it can result in clinical depression which sometimes can produce suicidal thoughts.

Burnout is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion occasioned by sustained frustration. According to Herbert Freudenberger, who introduced the term in his 1974 book, Burnout: The High Cost of High Achievement, burnout is “the extinction of motivation or incentive, especially where one’s devotion to a cause or relationship fails to produce the desired results.”

When you burn the candle at both ends, you are priming yourself for a burnout. When you take on too many responsibilities, thus spreading yourself too thin, you are setting up yourself for burnout. When you do not take time to rest, you are positioning yourself for burnout. When your focus is what is wrong or what can go wrong, you are preparing the ground for burnout. If your dissatisfaction with a system is such that you no longer see any possibility of it taking a turn for the better, you are making yourself a candidate for burnout.

Burnout does not happen overnight, it happens over time. It is a gradual process that can precipitate long-term changes in the body and make it vulnerable to illnesses.


Between stress and burnout

Stress is how the body reacts to a change. The reaction may be mental, physical or emotional. The body has a built-in stress response which enables it to combat stressful situations. This is known as the “fight or flight response”, which is automatically activated when there are sudden changes. So, being stressed is a normal human reaction, everyone experiences it. But when stress is compounded over a long period of time, it may lead to a burnout.


Dr Allwell Orji

On Sunday, March 19, 2017, Dr Allwell Orji, a staff of the Isolo branch of Mt. Sinai Hospital, left his church purportedly to attend a meeting of the Medical and Dental Council of Nigeria (MDCN) on Victoria Island, Lagos. He was chauffeured by his driver in a Nissan Sports Utility Vehicle. When they got to the Adeniji Adele end of the Third Mainland Bridge, he asked the driver to stop. He alighted from the vehicle, walked down to the lagoon and jumped into it in the full glare of onlookers. The bewildered bystanders tried to stop him to no avail. After he took the plunge, the police and local divers were contacted to rescue him. It was not until the following day that his body was recovered.

Why would a seemingly well to do young medical doctor commit suicide? Although Orji did not leave a suicide note, another medical doctor, Essien Attah, in a statement blamed the suicide on frustration. He said, “Many see doctors as being on top of the food chain, hence they carry a heavy burden. Numerous relatives feast on their finances like hungry vultures who keep on coming back for more carrion.”

According to him, added to that was the issue of drop in job satisfaction coupled with poor pay. He asked, “How can a man with a retinue of dependents and a gamut of hungry mouths to feed survive when his small stipend is irregular and subject to political manipulations?”

Attah also blamed the poor state of infrastructure in the health sector on Dr Orji’s frustration. He wrote, “Incessant strikes and decaying infrastructure have reduced doctors in Nigeria to a basal level of indignation and anger. It is now easier to squeeze water from stone than ensure the best possible care for patients. The most basic of life saving measures like oxygen and blood transfusion services are fast becoming a luxury and it is only a man of stone who will not feel depressed at the loss of a patient whose life could have been saved.”

So, the failure of the system so much frustrated a young medical doctor that he killed himself.


How to avoid burnout

Despite the unbelievable schedule of many leaders and the incredible demands placed on them, they can still avoid being burnt out.


Avoid a bad mental hygiene

Bad mental hygiene is an unhealthy way of thinking and acting, whose end is negative mental health issues. Thinking precedes action. Thinking is a prelude to becoming. When the thinking process is unhealthy, the ensuing actions will be unhealthy, and if this continues over a period of time, it may result in a burnout. A person who is overwhelmed by the feeling of not being appreciated did not just get to that point suddenly; he arrived at that point after spending quality time turning over in his mind the thought of not being appreciated. After being convinced that he is right in his thinking, he begins to act out his thoughts. Consequently, he avoids people and dwells in his own world of “nobody appreciates me,” thus becoming a candidate for burnout.

Overcoming a bad mental hygiene starts with the replacement of negative thoughts with positive ones. Every one acts out his or her dominant thoughts. So, if you consistently think positive thoughts, there will be no room for negative actions.


Take a break

This is the era of busyness. The avalanche of devices makes it easy to work round the clock. Devices have turned men to robots who work all the time. Employers also encourage employees to spend more hours working. But man is not configured to operate without taking breaks. On a daily basis, learn to take time off work. For at least 30 minutes, shut down your laptop, switch off your cell phone and take your mind off work. Spend the time on meditation or relaxation, but just stay off work, doing that will de-clutter your mind and give you clarity.

In addition, ensure you go on leave regularly. When you are on leave, don’t take any work along. Having adequate rest will refresh your body and rejuvenate your mind. Do not make your work your life, those who do so become enslaved to their work. They get so hemmed in by the work that they are unable to break out. But whenever there is a snap at work, they break down. Do not develop a sense of indispensability, no one is indispensable. Do not develop messianic complex, the work will continue should anything happen to you.

Take a break before you suffer a breakdown. Remember, those who don’t take time to rest are soon laid to rest.


Stay connected with others

Many of those who suffer burnout usually work alone even when they are in a team. Hence they feel weighed down by the burden of their task. A team is a support system that leaves no one overburdened. When team members collaborate, they help solve difficult problems easily and bring relief to one another. By staying connected, when a member of the team falls behind, it is easily noticed by others and the needed help is promptly made available. No one is an island, man was created for communion.

While solitude is great, isolation is not. Isolation is the first step to delusion. Those who isolate themselves do not see themselves as the cause of the isolation, they blame it on others who they accuse of locking them out. With isolation come unhealthy mental hygiene and its consequences. Those who isolate themselves first have their thoughts taking the wrong turn before their lives eventually follow. To avoid sliding down the burnout alley, avoid isolation.


Regularly work out

Working out does not just fix the body, it also detoxifies the mind. Exercising precipitates the release of chemicals like endorphins and serotonin which improve the mood and create a sense of wellbeing. Exercising has been found effective in taking the mind off worries and breaking the cycle of negative thinking. Research has also shown that those who exercise regularly gain confidence and are able to cope better with the challenges of life.


Have moderate expectations

Perfectionists are a danger both to themselves and those who associate with them. They drive both themselves and others to the extreme in getting what they want. It is great to aim high, it is important to go for the best, but when this is pushed beyond a point it becomes an obsession and nothing good comes from obsession. After building all hope and expending all resources on a project which falls through, disappointment sets in and depression may follow in tow.

Be moderate in your expectations both from yourself and others. Work as hard as you can without getting to the breaking point. Set your goals as high as possible without overreaching yourself. He who fights without being crushed has a chance to take up the fight at another time.


Last line

No success is worth your health, none your life.