4 steps to try when you're feeling burned out

Researchers from the Seattle-based University of Washington studied 230 people to identify the best methods for alleviating burnout, according to an April 12 article published in Harvard Business Review.

The researchers said that while burnout is an institutional problem, remedying it is a much less straightforward process.

Here are their recommended steps:

Step 1: Identify the source of the burnout
It can usually present as a combination of three distinct symptoms: exhaustion, cynical detachment (a depletion of social connectedness) and a reduced sense of efficacy (a depletion of value of oneself).

Step 2: Once identified, take action
Exhaustion: Acts of self-care are not self-indulgent. Taking time to meditate, nap or even acts of compassion for another person correlated with reduced levels of reported burnout the following day.

Cynicism: Being kind to others can help regain a sense of connectedness. The study found that when participants offered words of encouragement or listened to colleagues' concerns, it led to reduced levels of burnout associated with cynicism.

Inefficacy: Research showed that acts focused on bolstering your sense of self-compassion or compassion toward others are the most impactful. The key is to do something that will validate your own personal value. For example, comforting a co-worker led to increased self-esteem. Other examples that increased self-esteem are workout sessions or finishing a project.

Step 3: Agency is essential
To overcome burnout, employees must feel empowered to take control of their own lives and decisions. If an employee is struggling with feeling a loss of social connections, the most effective approach is for employees to reaffirm their own social networks. In one example, the researchers suggested that instead of managers implementing "mandatory fun," they should allow employees the space to pursue their own restorative activities.

Step 4: Prevention
The best cure for burnout is prevention, the researchers said. Managers and organizations are responsible for protecting their employees from becoming resource-depleted in the first place. Yet, the researchers said no matter how much effort an organization puts into combating burnout, there will always be a need for employees to understand where their burnout is coming from and to develop strategies to help pull themselves out.

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