Ask the everywoman Experts: I’m not overworked, but I feel increasingly drained and detached. Have I got burnout — and how can I re-energise myself?


An everywomanNetwork member writes...

Recently, I'm finding myself feeling increasingly drained, detached and sometimes overwhelmed at work. I imagine this is what burnout would feel like, but I don't feel as if I am under that kind of stress. My job is going well, my workload is manageable (if a bit unchallenging — I have been in my role for five years now and I’ve definitely reached a cruising pace). I have a supportive team around me and a reasonably good work/life balance, but I’m still feeling jaded, tired and lacking motivation. How can I reignite my energy and my interest in my role and career and move out of this malaise?


Exploring the resources your company has around wellbeing, mental Health and career development will support you in tackling your malaise from all sides, says Karen Gibson.

Karen Gibson

Firstly, it’s good to hear you have a ‘reasonably good work/life balance’ and as your workload is manageable you’ve recognised that this is not a 'traditional' burnout scenario. Even so, it might be worth considering scheduling some time off to rest properly; often when we give ourselves some unfocussed time we can recharge and access the more creative parts of our mind, which in turn can help us find solutions to the situations we’re in. At work, do you feel able to say ‘no’ or 'not now'? Not overextending yourself is crucial, and even though you don’t consider you have ‘traditional’ burnout, you might still benefit from taking a burnout stress test and auditing yourself around fundamental wellbeing activities such as nutrition, physical exercise and sleep patterns.

Your company can be a great resource too for support. If it has Mental Health First Aiders, they can provide a safe place when you need to talk, and signpost wellbeing information, including any Employee Assistance Programmes that provide counselling sessions. At M&G, our health and wellbeing app is a one-stop portal with 24/7 access to resources, including recordings of live events delivered with our partners, everywoman’s webinars and workbooks on wellbeing topics, Cityparents and the services of our consultant clinical psychiatrist who specialises in strategies around the pillars of ‘Calm, Rest and Joy’. Most organisations will have developed similar platforms, especially during the pandemic, and it’s worth exploring what may be available to you at your workplace.

You mention being at ‘cruising pace’, and given the physical symptoms and mindset you describe, I wonder if you are experiencing career stagnation. As with burnout, one of the key strategies to overcome this is to set energising short-term goals to achieve your longer-term aims. Align these with SMART objectives for your role, collating feedback from your team and stakeholders to help you to identify your key strengths. Conversations with your manager around clear career objectives and aspirations is also useful in charting your career path.  At M&G, we have Aspire, a career exploration and skills development programme affording participants 12-month career exploration secondments across the M&G business.  It is worth reaching out to your HR team to investigate similar initiatives at your company. Look into continuous learning opportunities, which can provide mental stimulation and motivation, as can joining new networks within the company or volunteering. All provide an opportunity to engage with your colleagues, communities and clients in a different way offering fresh insights and interests that can help to reenergise you.

Karen Gibson is Colleague Forum Chair and Co-ordinator for Mental Health First Aiders at M&G. www.mandg.com


Reconnect to your values and find out what's meaningful in your life to put the pep back into your work, says 4D Human co-founder, Philippa Waller.

Phillipa Waller

Being under-challenged at work can create burnout, or what some models call ‘bore out’ — in other words a case of competence versus perceived demand, and that’s what this question is talking to. The first thing I would look at is reconnecting to purpose. This is often the piece that is missing; people want to feel better, but then just keep doing the thing they're doing. You need to go back to the fundamentals of what you love about this job, and that might not be the tasks you do; maybe it's the mission of the company or the people that you work with or the great community or charity initiatives.

One of the reasons we can start drifting is that we disconnect from our purpose and meaning, or our values change and we haven’t updated what we are doing. Stop doing the things that don't engage you as much and start putting your energy intention towards the things that do. Write down your mission statement: What is the one thing you would say is the purpose of your life? The reason you do what you do goes beyond your job title. It can be relationship or quality-related, it could be a ‘way of being’ — such as ‘my purpose in life is to model how to spread kindness’. But whatever it is, it will be meaningful for you. What’s interesting about overwhelm is that it’s often not really about how much is going on in the environment, as much as how you feel about it. Having purpose is one of the most sustainable ways to increase your energy because we’re much more likely to be able to self-motivate if we are doing something that we actually like and is meaningful to us.

Finally, of the four basic human needs — safety, connection, significance and variety — people will often tick the safety box, having got the mortgage, the salary and food on the table, then say ‘I can't understand why I don't feel good.’ It’s because it doesn't stop there. Once you've ticked off one human need, your next will kick in. We often have this odd paradigm of just ‘get everything on the list ticked off and then we can just cruise through life’ — but that's a fantasy. You’ve got your job into a place where you’ve made it really easy for yourself because that's how we're driven — the brain is lazy. But although it’s nice to cruise for a bit, you don't want to stay there in that gear too long — to re-energise you have to climb the next step and that starts with reconnection to self.

Philippa Waller is Director and Co-founder of 4D Human being, a consultancy focused on excellence in communication, leadership and wellbeing. www.4dhumanbeing.com


It’s important to detach ourselves from this idea of the frazzled person being the only one a state of burnout — it can be just as much about not being challenged, says Sharon Aneja.

Sharon Aneja

Women are more prone to burnout than men, partly due to the inequity that exists in the workplace and in general in society. But it's also how our emotional response systems are wired. In moments of stress, women tend to ‘befriend’ — in other words, rather than looking after ourselves, we help other people instead. There's nothing wrong with that, but if we don't fill our own cup it leaves us feeling more drained and burnt out, and you say that you feel overwhelmed at times in your job which is a definite sign of unmanaged stress. That is one of two things happening for you here; the second is that you’re clearly bored in your job and that leads to apathy and a loss of energy. It actually sounds as if you are fluctuating between the two states, which is the worst of both worlds. But you’re right to ask about how you can reignite your energy because that's what holds the key. It’s about working on your mental energy and how to build it by focusing on internal rewards and intrinsic motivators such as growth, belonging or meaning. You don’t sound as if you are growing or learning in your role, and that will make you feel inherently miserable and unfulfilled. Can you remember a time when you felt energised at work? Make a note of the things you were doing at the time and to try to reintroduce some of those elements into your life — or introduce new ones. And start small, so you don't overwhelm yourself further — maybe one or two things to begin to fill your ‘energy bucket’ up. How we reward ourselves in the journey of learning something new also provides energy; focusing positively on small milestones releases dopamine in our brains which makes us want to repeat the experience, creating motivation. So, when you do have moments of success make sure you really celebrate them — we call it savouring in positive psychology. Regarding the overwhelm, it's important to bring awareness into those moments. Write down the triggers that lead you to feel like this at work. Is it too many deadlines at once? Are you taking on too much? Because, when you understand your triggers, you can actually have a conversation with your manager about what support you might need — as well as about opportunities where you can grow or learn in the role or company you’re in. Right now, your biggest enemy is apathy and that is leading you to feel mentally exhausted. Reenergising yourself with shots of learning and growth and celebrating yourself for it will be the key to rediscovering your mojo.

Sharon Aneja is a Positive Psychology coach. She helps re-energise employees who are feeling burnout. She is the founder of www.humanityworksconsultancy.com and Recharge@Work.  


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