The compassionate cousin of "work hard, play hard," work-life balance seeks to maximize the satisfaction of working people in and out of the office. But is such a balance too good to be true? According to burnout prevention and resilience expert Paula Davis-Laack, "there is no such thing as work-life balance – our lives are just too complex for that term."
This idea is supported by a recent University of Phoenix survey, which found over half of employed subjects had experienced job burnout. Of this 2,020-person study, only 34 percent of those who experienced burnout had ever taken time off for mental health.
Davis-Laack calls burnout a "gateway process" to more serious conditions like depression, anxiety, substance abuse and physical illnesses. In her experience, "burnout manifests itself in different ways for different people," so there are many options and avenues to address the condition on an individual level.
Getting ahead in your career does not mean you have to sacrifice your health. Reclaim control of your workplace satisfaction with these four strategies.
1. Be picky with your support system.
If over half of employees have experienced burnout, the odds of someone you know at work having gone through the same struggle are high. However, these are not necessarily the best people to reach out to for support. According to Davis-Laack, there is a "workplace root associated with burnout," so if your burnout is severe, you should seek out assistance from a mental health professional in addition to friends and family.
2. Set goals.
People experiencing burnout describe feeling out of control at work. In early-stage burnout, Davis-Laack asks clients to identify where control is present and where they can find influence or leverage in a situation. If you're ready to focus on the future, set aside time to identify achievable goals for your work. Strategizing a concrete plan well within capabilities will bring renewed focus and autonomy to your professional life.
3. Get physical.
"Physical movement, I believe, is the single most important thing a person can do to manage stress," Davis-Laack said. Of course, moving your body to combat burnout does not have to be as drastic as training for a half marathon or picking up CrossFit. "Do a few pushups between phone calls or meetings. Suggest a walking lunch or meeting. Park your car further away." Exercising won't seem like such a time commitment when it can be done within your own office.
4. Unplug and recharge.
Whether you do it in the gym or on the couch, recharging is key. Establishing a nighttime routine helps your body wind down. This "power-down routine," as Davis-Laack calls it, is as easy as establishing when you're going to stop eating, turning devices off or doing a self-care activity. Identifying these boundaries offsets workplace stress in and out of the office environment.
Keep in mind that burnout is not always a phase – it can be a sign that change needs to take place.
"Anytime your health and relationships are being negatively impacted by stress at work, it's time to have a conversation about what's next," Davis-Laack said. This could be a sit-down with your supervisor about changing teams or divisions, but it could also mean looking at a new organization altogether. No matter your unique situation, it is always OK to speak up for yourself and seek help, and there are tangible steps in reclaiming control over your workplace health."