How to avoid burnout through better self-management

Psychologist Andrea Goeglein explains how IT managers can better handle stress and avoid job burnout.

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Image: iStockphoto/fizkes

The Mayo Clinic defines job burnout as "a state of physical, emotional, or mental exhaustion, combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work." 

Burnout is a serious problem for individuals and for the companies they work for, as reflected in a Deloitte workplace burnout survey that revealed 77% of employees experienced at least one bout of burnout with their current employer, over 50% said they had had more than one occurrence of it, and almost 70% of employees felt their employers weren't doing enough about it.

Melody Wilding, a performance coach and human behavior professor at Hunter College, defined three types of burnout:

  1. Overload burnout: People "work harder and ever-more frantically in search of success."
  2. Under-challenge burnout: People feel unappreciated, bored, and under-challenged. 
  3. Neglect burnout: People feel helpless and unable to keep up with the daily demands of the job. 

SEE: IT burnout: Causes and solutions (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

For anyone who has ever managed IT projects over a period of time, they've likely seen all three types of burnout in project staff members and possibly even in themselves.

It's important for project managers to identify burnout-vulnerable team members and to help them cope, and it's equally important for project managers to avoid burnout. Some signs of burnout are: Increased absenteeism and illness, irritability, anger, isolation, and a decrease in normal work production levels.

"We're seeing two types of stress leading to burnout in the workforce," said Dr. Andrea Goeglein, a psychologist who works with executives and entrepreneurs on reducing burnout. "Millennials are a generation that is more focused on doing things on their own, but this can increase levels of loneliness that in turn causes stressful thoughts and could lead to the feeling that there is no support system. With older executives, they have gone through so many business cycles, but they're aware that the new business challenges they face are unknown."

Goeglein said that it's easier to fix burnout problems when they're small. "You can catch the signal," she said. You can do this by assessing whether you are functioning at your optimum, if stress is contributing to loss of sleep, or if the work grind is wearing you down and eating into your self-confidence.

"It's not about avoiding stress, but about you working in a positive environment," explains Goeglein, who encourages employees and managers to learn what their top five strengths are.

"One place you can go for self help in learning your strengths is the VIA Institute," she said. "People go there to take a free survey to learn about their five top strengths. 

"Another thing you can do is develop a keen awareness of your own system and how you react to stress. Stress can be beneficial and keep you going—but it's different when you are constantly interrupted, getting overwhelmed with emails, or feeling that you have to show up for work an hour earlier, and you find it's affecting your ability to function optimally. At that point, you have to ask yourself what you can do to get back to an optimum level of performance."

What is the best way to self-manage your stress and avoid burnout?

"Know yourself," said Goeglein, "You can do this by starting from where you are and just moving forward on a path where you know your strengths. Once you do this, you will know what strengths you have and what will help your traverse the situation you are in…. It's not about avoiding stress or overworking, or achieving work-life balance. It's about integration of all of these activities with your life and who you are."

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By Mary Shacklett

Mary E. Shacklett is president of Transworld Data, a technology research and market development firm. Prior to founding the company, Mary was Senior Vice President of Marketing and Technology at TCCU, Inc., a financial services firm; Vice President o...