Trying to Prevent Burnout? Coaching Can Help

CoachHub · 18 August 2022 · 5 min read

Burnout!  We’ve all heard the term; chances are if you haven’t experienced it first-hand, you know someone who has. It’s a serious issue, but too often organizations address burnout insufficiently and sometimes place too much of that burden on the employee themselves. Why? While burnout has been part of our vernacular for more than 40 years, the World Health Organization only recently has included burnout as a formal classification of illbeing since 2019.

There continue to be rising rates of stress and burnout across organizations with workers at all levels leaving for new opportunities (or just taking a pause), and an ever-growing distributed way of working complicating matters. These trends, among others, beg a question many companies are focused on… how can we protect our human capital — the engine of our businesses and what we do?

Burnout prevention strategy 1: Help our people be well

First, we need to continue focusing on holistic well-being.  This is top of mind for many — not just thinking about our individual well-being, but that of our teams and employees at all levels.

Change and uncertainty are constant in life and the challenges we face as a global community today and in the future (e.g., climate crisis, geopolitical tension, political polarization) have a significant impact on employee wellbeing. Until recently, we’ve largely ignored the realities of the impact of mental health and well-being in the world of work.

Here are some common misconceptions about well-being

  • Myth 1: Mental Health issues are rare. The fact is, there are 200 million lost work days each year due to depression, costing companies $17 – $44 billion (CDC, 2022).
  • Myth 2: Mental health is a “personal” issue. Actually, 86% of high potential are at risk of burnout due to increases in work-life demands (DDI, 2021).
  • Myth 3: Well-being interventions don’t work. Many don’t, but that’s because they treat symptoms of the problem. Deloitte’s (2017) research shows there is a 6:1 return on investment when companies implement proactive mental health and well-being interventions.

Research shows that when we have proactive approaches to our interventions, the returns are quite good.

Employee well-being and burnout

Burnout prevention strategy 2: Balance your ‘well-being bank’

What we fail to recognize very often is this simple idea of the balance in our ‘well-being bank accounts’. Every day, deposits and withdrawals are made to our well-being bank accounts. Each deposit and withdrawal is within our control. However, we know that there are many influences around us that impact what, when, and how often we are making deposits and withdrawals.

Not having enough resources — or deposits — in the bank to deal with the ever-increasing and sustaining demands is what can lead to burnout and other detrimental health issues. This balance of job demands and resources (Bakker & Demerouti, 2007; Demerouti, et al., 2001) is foundationally what’s happening when it comes to rising issues of burnout, lower overall well-being, etc.

Specifically, burnout happens when people have been highly engaged for a long time, dealing with unmanageable stress for a prolonged period of time, and there are limited personal skills or resources and organizational support to maintain your well-being. But this doesn’t just happen; burnout occurs in stages or has three dimensions in how it shows up. According to work of Maslach and colleagues (2001), there is

  • Emotional exhaustion which is the overwhelming feeling of tiredness. This can sound like “I’m so tired…I have no energy”
  • Cynicism which is the negative detachment from work. This may show up as a “I don’t care anymore…I give up” response
  • Sense of inefficacy where there is a lack of personal accomplishment. This may show up as “I can’t get anything done…what I’m doing isn’t worthwhile”

Burnout is an organizational phenomenon and it’s driven by many things — by an overwhelming amount of demands and lack of resources. Some of these demands may be workload, limited resources to be supported in a job, lack of social support, time pressure, or disconnection with personal values.

When you layer on the macro demands of a pandemic, economic uncertainty, political issues, war (the list certainly goes on), it’s no wonder that burnout is at all time highs.

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The road to recovery and — more importantly — prevention

Very often when we are dealing with stressors and complicated situations, we think it’ll all be better or go back to normal, once this is over. This “back to normal” is an illusion we need to free ourselves from in order to get future-ready and to ensure that we continue to have the tools in our toolbox to manage the constant stage of change. According to research (Sonnentag et al., 2012), there are four simple steps for burnout recovery. These can also be the tools for prevention, when one finds themselves on the road to burnout.

At CoachHub, we think about three levels of prevention for mental health and wellbeing at the workplace, which is inspired by LaMontagne et al.’s (2014) integrated model for workplace mental health. The three levels include primary and secondary levels of prevention. While coaching isn’t the solution for all cases when it comes to mental health and well-being, it can be helpful at primary and secondary levels of mental health prevention. How?

  • At a primary level of prevention, the focus is on helping to reduce potential risk factors by growing a resilient and thriving workforce. Here are some examples of how coaching can support individuals at this level:
    • By elevating self-awareness
    • Increasing the experience of positive emotions
    • Bringing clarity on values, meaning, support and resources available
    • Strengthening positive work relationships
  • At the secondary level, the focus is on equipping employees with knowledge, skills, and resources to cope with stressors.  Here, coaching can support:
    • Strengthening resources and coping skills
    • Enhancing mindfulness and emotional regulation
    • Developing new approaches to time management and boundary setting

At the tertiary level, the focus is on treatment and rehabilitation for employees with enduring stress-related symptoms or diseases.  This is where coaching is not appropriate. This is where licensed counselors, psychotherapists and/or other mental and medical professional support is required.

Coaching is highly effective during times of change

In a constant state of change, stress is inevitable. We can approach our workplaces with this in mind, and check how we are creating environments that enable employees to make more deposits into their well-being bank accounts, minimizing the negative withdrawals. Focusing on what job demands and support systems are unnecessary, arduous, complicated and fixing them is important. Providing employees with the tools and resources to mitigate and combat stress is equally important. One piece of building a sustainable, resilient, flourishing workforce is providing proactive tools to help people thrive. Coaching can be one of those levers; a healthy deposit into not only the individual well-being bank, but the organizations’.

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