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When Does Being Busy Become Burnout?

At some point during your working life you may feel as though you have a lot of jobs on at the same time. Whether this is paperwork or half finished projects, these can take long hours to get through and you feel as though you're going nowhere fast. Some of these projects may get put on hold for a while until you can find more time to deal with them. But what happens if you never find the time to get around to them?

These things may get left behind to only see the light of day a few years down the line when they're no longer relevant. But how do you get through the tunnel of being busy and out the other side? It may not be surprising but it's hard to break this cycle on your own, you may need help from further up the organisation chain. So what can be changed to improve the burnout rate of employees and on a personal level?

Let's start with looking at how workers experience work-life conflict.

How do workers experience work-life conflict?

The work-life balance may be at the heart of your business, but do your employees see this? It may be that there are emails bouncing around at all times of the day and night. While this wasn't a problem in days gone by, with employees now having access to emails on their phones, this means they are able to see and respond to these emails no matter what the time is (even at 3am), or while the employee is on vacation. Because of this, employees are feeling burned out, they're putting in their hours in the office and then continuing to work, unpaid, from home.

This can be because employees feel as though their work is important in the scope of the business and so what they're working on needs to be done for the business to keep running. While this can seem to be a problem of They don't need to respond as soon as", it can also be a case of management not needing to send the emails at that time of night. This can also lead to management feeling burned out because their work-life balance isn't balanced.

So, while your business may say that you need to maintain a work-life balance, the act of doing it is something altogether different. You need your management team to switch off so that your employees don't feel as though they're being pressured into working all hours of the day and night.

Stressed man with head on desk

What're you actually busy doing?

We've all been in the situation where we're responding to emails, taking phone calls, being called into meetings with management to discuss the email we sent, all at the same time, while trying to get on with the work we're meant to be doing. When you're actually trying to get work done, you then tend to work on whatever takes the least amount of time to complete because you have no idea how long you'll have to work on it. Then, when you're done with the least important and smaller tasks, it's 4pm and you're out of time to work on what needs to be done.

So you take the work home with you and complete it in the evenings and over the weekend. Thus leading to the work-life conflict. What needs to happen in this situation is the root cause of the busyness being tackled. Such as ticking off the big project on your to-do' list rather than filling your time with the small stuff.

In theory, you could leave your work in the office and not complete it at home. While this may work for some, it's hard to disseminate this through the entire company, which means that some employees are going to keep doing it and working overtime. One of the reasons for this is that a busy employee must be completing the work and therefore a good member of the workforce. This can be a signal for promotion and so your employees are willing to appear busy at all times of the day and night to impress you.

There are ways to prevent this from happening and getting happier employees in the process. One way of doing this is to change what you define as a good worker, rather than having a good worker as someone who stays late, eats lunch at their desk and answers emails at all hours. Have it as someone who is well rested, completes the large jobs and not just the small ones and has a healthy work-life balance.

How can you help your employees out of burnout?

1. Take breaks yourself

When you receive late night texts you tend to assume that the person sending it has been working all through the night and hasn't taken a break yet, this may not be the case. You never know what the other person has been doing and whether they sent the email while they were out walking the dog. So you try and work through the night because you don't want to be left behind and want to be able to keep up with the person sending the email.

To break this cycle of misconception, make sure that you're visible when taking breaks. Leave your desk for lunch and leave your phone behind, leave the office on time at the end of the day, talk about any upcoming vacations and any responsibilities outside of work. Just remind your employees that you're not constantly on the go and you don't expect them to be either.

2. Schedule time for unfinished work

We're all guilty of underestimating how long work will take, and how much effort will be needed in order to finish it. Maybe something else more important cropped up that needed more attention than what you were working on. To help combat this, block out some time in the calendar for unfinished work to be completed.

If your employees have an upcoming vacation, schedule the day before they leave as a day for tying off everything they're working on and the day they come back as a day to catch up on all they missed. This way, they are better able to unplug while they're away and won't be as concerned about missing out on anything while they're gone.

3. Increase the transparency of what everyone's doing

When you're a part of a large project, you may be constantly busy, answering calls, emails, going to project meetings, but you may not actually be completely anything. Finding uninterrupted time to actually work on the project can seem like a scarcity. So what can you do to combat this?

One thing could be making the work transparent, by having managers know exactly what's being worked on there's suddenly a trade off when they want to call a meeting. Managers will know exactly what's not being done while everyone's in a meeting, so they'll have to judge whether the meeting is worth it or not. This can be done through a shared calendar with time-blocking showing what's being worked on and when.

Another way of helping is making sure that all meetings are efficient, such as having an agenda and limiting the time the meeting will be going on for. For more tips on this, check out our previous post Top Tips for a Productive Meeting.

What to take away

If you're constantly feeling busy, you may not actually be doing anything worthwhile. So how can you change this? From making sure everyone takes breaks (including yourself) to having a greater transparency of who's working on what and when. Anything you can do to improve the work-life balance of your employees while keeping the workload consistent is good for everyone involved.

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