Preventing Burnout: How to Protect Yourself?

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Anneke Zwart
Student (University), Netherlands

Preventing Burnout: How to Protect Yourself?


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

Main Cause: Work Stress

Even if other factors also are playing a role (for example personal circumstances/traits, Covid, a crisis, a war), burnouts are mainly 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.

How to Prevent Burnout?

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).

How to Prevent You Get a Burnout Yourself?

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).

Protect Yourself by Putting These 2 Things at the Very Top of Your To-Do List

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.
⇒ What are your experiences and ideas regarding preventing and countering burnouts?

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


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