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The Link Between Self-Worth and Burnout

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In January 2024, Mental Health UK released a report on burnout and the statistics are concerning for organisations, individuals and communities. The research suggests that 1 in 5 of us have missed work in the last year with mental health issues and 91% of those surveyed have experienced extreme stress at work in the last year. The impact of this on lives, communities and loved ones is significant.

What’s happening to create this burnout epidemic? And how can low self-worth increase our likelihood of getting burnt out?

Why does burnout occur?

Burnout can emerge through work or life stressors and, most commonly, a combination of both.

In the workplace, key triggers include a loss of meaning at work, miscommunication between groups, daily overload (the perception that you are never getting through your work), a feeling of pressure (whether it’s your personal perception or actual unsustainable pressure) and lack of recognition. Again, the latter could be self-perceived or could be a general overlooking of your abilities by management.

In life, consistent and chronic financial strain or relationship breakdown, difficult caring responsibilities and living situations all contribute to the path to burnout, too.

Personality is a key predictor. Individuals who are highly conscientious, agreeable, and introverted are more likely to experience burnout. As we’ll see, having low self-worth is also a significant contributor.

What does burnout look like?

In 1974, research showed that workplace demands could result in depressive symptoms which were described as burnout. In 2019 the World Health Organisation finally recognised it as a listed disease. It’s physically and mentally debilitating. A recent systematic review highlighted the severity of physical symptoms. From diabetes to coronary heart disease, prolonged fatigue, stomach issues and respiratory problems.

From a mental health perspective, the research identified insomnia, depression, and general psychological ill-health. From an everyday work perspective, individuals experienced job dissatisfaction, absenteeism and presenteeism.

There are three characteristic three red flags which signify burnout:

  • Detachment and depersonalisation: as though you are on the ceiling and watching yourself in a meeting or looking down on the rest of your family watching television. In other words, a feeling that you are there but not part of the situation.
  • Total exhaustion: sleep makes no difference. The tiredness will not go away.
  • Feelings of ineffectiveness: Nothing seems to go right for you at work and you’re not adding value. A strong sense that everything you do is of poor quality or incorrect.

Importantly, you don’t suddenly become burnt out. There is a path. Some workplace stress is normal but the route to burnout involves consistent and chronic stress over time, to a point where the individual feels powerless and unfulfilled. It begins to feel like a crisis and that there is no way out. This path can include feeling anxious and jittery most of the time.

The individual might begin to develop an ‘escapist mentality’ and then reaches the point where they simply cannot work anymore.

Once burnout occurs, taking a weekend away and passing across a bit of work to a colleague is not going to fix it. Like a broken bone, it’s a serious condition that can take months – even years – to reverse.

The link between self-worth and burnout

Low self-worth causes us to do things that may be detrimental to us, and this is where burnout can manifest itself. It causes us to be indecisive and to lack boundaries. We live in a place of fear rather than confidence in work and life.

The role of social media today means that many of us are engaging in constant comparison and placing our self-worth in the valuations of others (comments, likes, shares). If you never feel ‘enough’ and you’re seeking approval and constantly feel the need to improve then you may be on a road to burnout. When we place our self-esteem in the valuations and judgements of others and in things we cannot control, then we can find ourselves on an emotional rollercoaster.

So what are the key factors for preventing burnout?

To address this, there are some key skills to develop as an individual:

  • Being mindful helps us to avoid the feeling of overwhelm and to focus on what we can control and where we find joy.
  • Building resilience through recognising our strengths and our unique contribution in work and life.
  • Building boundaries enables us to avoid saying yes to things we should avoid and limits the risk of overwhelm. Becoming more essentialist in nature and really prioritising our ‘yes’.
  • Building an understanding of personal resources. We have a finite amount of personal resources. They do not discriminate between ‘work’ or ‘home’. At times our resources can get depleted very quickly and we may need help to support or boost them.
  • Building your physical health is transformative in creating stronger mental health behaviours.
  • Building creativity into your week. This is not a luxury – creativity should be seen as a mental wellness tool, as it helps us to process and clarify our thinking. Creativity can exist as art, cooking, gardening, making music – anything which engages your creative brain. For so many of us, this has become non-existent.
  • Building your self-worth is an absolute essential. Increasing self-worth through realistic affirmations, setting manageable goals, and recognising your strengths, communication, and vulnerability. Establish these daily self-care habits and stick to them. Because when we’re more resilient and have higher levels of self-worth, it’s like a buffer against burnout.

What can employers do to help?

  • Give control and flexibility to colleagues. This is an evidence-based way to increase feeling of resilience and positive mental health.
  • Stop celebrating and praising over-working and long hours culture. Sadly, the increase of working from home has added to the risk of this.
  • Make sure colleagues have a sense of purpose. Ensure colleagues feel meaning and purpose
  • in their daily work. Tell them why the work they’re doing is important.
  • Make sure colleagues feel they can discuss their mental health at work and ensure that senior managers are walking the talk. It’s useful if they show  vulnerability and communicate their own difficulties and challenges.
  • Support colleagues’ internal communication and dialogue around managing work and life.

In short, to address burnout and self-worth, a collaborative approach is key.

Individuals should focus on self-care and setting clear boundaries, while organisations need to create a supportive environment. This includes fostering open conversations about mental health, recognising achievements, and aligning personal and organisational goals. By doing so, we can build a resilient workforce and combat burnout at its core, leading to a healthier, more productive world of work for everyone.

World Wellbeing Week 2024

June 24 – June 30

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