How to Protect Yourself Against Burnout?

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How to Protect Yourself Against Burnout?
Anneke Zwart, Student (University), Netherlands

An increasing number of business leaders, managers and workers are showing signs of burnouts (~ being emotionally exhausted and cynical due to work stress, both chronic and acute).

So burnouts are caused by work stress. In turn, this stress at work can be caused by:
  • The increasing uncertainties and speed of change in the world around us and in our organizations.
  • People are overworking quite a bit ('work presenteeism') and the line between home and work seems to disappear further and further.
  • Conflicts with colleagues and other personal factors add up to stress levels and lead people to perceive their work as a burden, rather than as a fun and rewarding activity.
Based on a study from Wiens (2016), a part of the answer to this question can be found in practicing one of the categories of emotional intelligence: "EMPATHY" (~ aiming to be compassionate towards other people by understanding their needs, wants and opinions; expressing them and acting according to them).

Most interestingly, the above research shows that compassion does not only benefit others, but also yourself. How does that work? The act of expressing empathy creates certain physiological reactions that make us relax and calm and enhance our long-term sustainability. It also triggers the parasympathetic part of our nervous system (responsible for unconscious processes like digestion, salivation defecation, etc.). Expressing empathy also has a reverse effect on the stress levels caused by our sympathetic nervous system (stimulates psychological reactions on attacks or harmful events).

McKee en Wiens (2017) recommend to engage in empathy towards yourself (self-compassion) and towards others to protect yourself against a burnout:
  • SELF-COMPASSION: Take care of your body, mind, loved ones and make sure you get enough sleep. Be kind and forgiving to yourself.
  • GIVE EMPATHY: Nurture friendships with colleagues you like. Appreciate people. Coach people. Put people at the center.
⇒ Can you think of more ways to practice self-compassion and empathy toward others?

McKee, A. and K. Wiens (2017. “Prevent Burnout by Making Compassion a Habit” HBR May 2017
Wiens, K.J. (2016. “ Leading through Burnout: The Influence of Emotional Intelligence on the Ability of Executive Level Physician Leaders to Cope with Occupational Stress and Burnout” University of Pennsylvania

Empathy Diminishes Stress. Try it!
Jaap de Jonge (Editor), Editor, Netherlands
Thanks Anneke for sharing this article review.
For me this was a bit of a revelation. You see, since a couple of years I work as a care volunteer in a hospice (~ a place offering a specialized type of compassionate care for those facing a life-limiting illness or injury). This role involves giving a lot of empathy to the patients and their family. Since then, feelings of stress I used to have diminished, and I feel emotionally strong and in balance. Isn't it a miracle of creation/evolution that by helping others you are rewarded with emotional wellbeing of yourself? I never anticipated that, let alone did I understood the reasons behind it…
This article gave me some good insights and serves as a reminder for me to apply more compassion and empathy in my daily work and personal life too.

By the way, also have a look at active listening, which I found to be a useful technique for the first 2 elements of giving empathy (understanding, expressing). 22-5-2017

Being Empathetic is Good for Yourself
Philippe Barteau, Entrepreneur, France
I learned from this article that being compassionate to other people decreases your own stress level. Merci beaucoup! 25-5-2017


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