10 ways to beat workplace burnout

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  • The rise in carefully curated career porn, 24/7 connectivity and #sidehustles have lead to workplace stress and desktop drop outs. Here resilience coach Jo Owen reveals how to build your mental strength and form healthy work/life habits

    There is a silent epidemic of mental illness at work. One in five women in full-time employment experience mental health problems as a result of their career. Hardly a surprise in a world of unprecedented volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity.

    But the best way to deal with burnout is to prevent it, so here are ten ways to make 2020 the year you move from surviving to thriving. Start with just one of these habits, whichever appeals to you most. Once it becomes a habit, add one more and become resilient one step at a time.

    1. Be kind to yourself

    In our internal chatter, we can be our own worst critics. Instead, tame the chatter and make it your best friend. Stop beating yourself up and stop comparing yourself to perfection. Focus on what you are good at and what you have achieved.

    2. Get support

    No one succeeds, or even survives, alone so don’t carry the burdens of the world, your family or your team on your shoulders. Seek help and advice: a problem shared is a problem halved. Solutions to the hardest problems can magically appear over a cup of tea with someone you trust.

    3. Take control

    The difference between pressure and stress is control: people are often at their best under some pressure. However, if you keep the pressure and take away the control, stress is often the result because your success now depends on people who may not have your best interests at heart. The best thing? Focus your efforts on what you can do, not on what you can’t do. Even small steps boost confidence and can help to make a big difference.

    4. Find purpose in what you do

    It is easy to find purpose and endure hardship if you want to climb Everest or sail round the world single-handedly. It is harder if you find yourself stuck in the middle of the corporate ladder. But the people who survive and thrive in life are the ones who find meaning and purpose in what they do. Focus on how your work is helping you build a better future for yourself, your family and for others. You make a difference to your colleagues and customers, so celebrate doing that as well as you can.

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    5. Take breaks

    Statistics show that we work fewer hours than previous generations. Statistics lie. Formal working hours may be shorter, but when we leave the office the office does not leave us. We are expected to be on 24/7 and that is unsustainable. Set boundaries. Be clear about when it is reasonable to expect responses to emails and calls out of hours. And when on holiday, be on holiday: the office will not collapse if you fail to check in.

    6. Mind your language

    If your internal dialogue says things like, ‘never, no one, always, everyone’, you are catastrophising. You will find plenty of evidence to confirm your catastrophe. This is a good way to stress out. Stop yourself and see if you can find any evidence that someone, somewhere, sometimes might be helped. Lift the gloom and find the positives.

    7. Stay focused

    A US government report found that office workers are productive for, on average, two hours and 56 minutes per day, and assumed that meeting time is productive. The rest of the time is wasted with interruptions and social media. Set clear goals for the next hour: focus 100 per cent; avoid interruptions and distractions; and then reward yourself with a break. Work, rest, repeat.

    8. Care for your health

    You do not need to complete a triathlon before breakfast to be healthy. Simple things help. Get off the bus or tube one stop early and walk; vary your commute and enjoy some exercise. Ditch the lift if you are going just two floors either way. Avoid eating too much junk.

    9. Sleep your way to success

    Being tired has the same effect on cognitive abilities as being drunk. Athletes routinely perform better with more sleep.

    10. Count your blessings

    A good way to find gloom is to recall all the bad things that happened in the day. The better choice is to recall just three good things that happened in the day. Then write them down in a notebook before you go to bed. Over a month, you will start to rediscover the joy in all the minor and major miracles of modern life.

    * Jo Owen is a social entrepreneur, founder of Teach First and author of Resilience: 10 Habits to Thrive in Life and Work, (£12.99, Pearson)

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