Burnout can be avoided if you adapt your workload. Source: Unsplash/tangerine newt

Leadership
Harvard Business Review

Managing burnout: How to prioritise productivity for the long-term

Authors
Harvard Business Review
Productivity
11 minute Read

Heavy workloads and deadline pressures are a fact of managerial life. Who doesn’t feel overwhelmed or stretched thin sometimes? But when relentless work stress pushes you into the debilitating state we call burnout, it is a serious problem, affecting not just your own performance and wellbeing — both on the job and off — but also that of your team and your organisation.

Hard data on the prevalence of burnout is elusive since it’s not yet a clinical term separate from stress. Some researchers say that as few as 7% of professionals have been seriously affected by burnout. But others have documented rates as high as 50% among medical residents and 85% among financial professionals.

A 2013 ComPsych survey of more than 5,100 North American workers found that 62% felt high levels of stress, loss of control, and extreme fatigue. Research has also linked burnout to many negative physical and mental health outcomes, including coronary artery disease, hypertension, sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety, as well as to increased alcohol and drug use. Moreover, burnout has been shown to produce feelings of futility and alienation, undermine the quality of relationships, and diminish long-term career prospects.

Consider the case of Barbara (last name withheld), the CEO of a PR firm that serves technology industry clients. During the 2001 collapse of the dot-com bubble, the challenge of keeping her business afloat added extra stress to an already intense workload. Focused on this “unrelenting hustle”, she neglected her health, lost perspective, and began to doubt her own abilities. Cheryl (not her real name), a partner in the Philadelphia office of a global law firm, hit the same sort of wall after she agreed to take on multiple leadership roles there in addition to managing her full-time legal practice.

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