how to talk to your boss about burnout

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COVID Burnout? WFH Burnout? Here’s How to Talk to Your Boss About It

COVID Burnout? WFH Burnout? Here’s How to Talk to Your Boss About It

Talking to your supervisor can help you combat burnout
how to talk to your boss about burnout

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You might consider yourself a high-achiever who goes above and beyond on the job, and while that’s noble, it may be detrimental to your health. Unclear or changing requirements, insufficient compensation, lack of recognition, toxic workplace relationships and exorbitant overtime are just some factors that may cause burnout. If your job is stressing you out to the point of exhaustion, you should talk to your boss about it. Here’s how.

What is burnout?

What is burnout?

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According to the Mayo Clinic, burnout is a type of work-related crisis. It is a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity. Although it is not classified as a medical condition, it is recognized as an “occupational phenomenon” under the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases.

Know the signs

Know the signs

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Listen to your body. There are many different signs that you could be suffering from burnout, including exhaustion, chronic stress, inefficiency, feeling useless, depression, headaches, insomnia, frequent colds and infections, stomach pain, higher blood pressure, cynicism, blurred vision and the obvious: hating your job. These things don’t just happen overnight, and you’re not likely to notice until burnout is well-established.

See a doctor

See a doctor

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Since there are a lot of different symptoms of burnout, you may want to make an appointment with your doctor or mental health provider to get an objective medical assessment and make sure your symptoms aren’t caused by something else.

Talk to a friend

Talk to a friend

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The first step to healing is admitting that you have a problem, but before you speak with your boss, talk to someone you trust about how you’re feeling. This could be a friend, coworker or both. Having their support will make you feel less anxious and alone about what you’re going through, and will boost your confidence before you schedule your meeting.

Don’t be intimidated

Don’t be intimidated

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There are simple ways to deal with everyday stress, but burnout rarely goes away on its own if you decide to do nothing about it. Your boss likely has multiple responsibilities competing for their attention, so they may not notice that you’re overwhelmed. It can seem intimidating to start a conversation, but making time to talk is the first step to getting back on track.

Know that your feelings are valid

Know that your feelings are valid

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We often overcommit out of ambition and a need to impress, and when we fail to deliver or turn something in that’s not top-quality, it can feel like we’re dispensable — that our boss might just find someone else who can handle the stress care-free. Truth is, most supervisors want you to speak up about the things that hinder you from carrying out your job duties to the best of your ability. Taking the time to fix things from within is less expensive than hiring and training someone to take a job with a proven history of burnout anyway.

Schedule a face-to-face meeting

Schedule a face-to-face meeting

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When you’re ready to talk, it’s best to do so in person, although that’s not always possible. If you’re working remotely, request a video chat by sending a simple email to the tune of, “I’m feeling overwhelmed lately. Do you have time to chat about it this week?” To get ready for your call, consider these virtual meeting guidelines.

Expect discomfort

Expect discomfort

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Talking to your boss about mental health is new territory for many, so going into a meeting expecting a comfortable conversation isn’t always realistic. Don’t let that stop you, though. The whole reason you’re doing this is so that you can feel more comfortable in the aftermath. It’s likely your boss has experienced burnout in some capacity too and can empathize with you.

Be honest

Be honest

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To mitigate stress, you have to be transparent. Do you have too many assignments? Are you working late? Are you qualified to perform the duties you’ve been given? Are you being tasked to do more than what’s expected of your job description? What resources do you need to do your job more effectively? Are workplace dynamics dysfunctional? Be vulnerable and lay it all on the table so that you can set new boundaries.

Talk about what you bring to the company

Talk about what you bring to the company

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In addition to the above, ask yourself, “How does this affect not only me but also the business as a whole?” Tell your boss that you’ve pushed yourself beyond your limits in service to the company, but you’re worried that you can no longer perform at peak capacity.

Brainstorm solutions

Brainstorm solutions

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Think about possible solutions to the problems you face so that you can create a plan of action. What does a better work situation look like for you and what will it take to get there? Perhaps you need to realign priorities and expectations, lighten your workload, implement new processes, release your own perfectionist tendencies or draw support from other staffers or external sources.

Remember it’s not all on you

Remember it’s not all on you

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It is proactive to go into your meeting with proposed solutions, but it’s not all on you to figure this out. Don’t be afraid to ask your boss for guidance on how to resolve your issues.

Embrace your emotions

Embrace your emotions

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If your feelings are bottled up and you feel them creeping out during your conversation, that’s OK. Showing emotion may not be commonplace in the office, but it’s a very real part of life. Talking about upsetting aspects of your job isn’t an easy thing to do. You don’t need to feel ashamed over tears, shortness of breath or other reactions.

Don’t be afraid to disconnect

Don’t be afraid to disconnect

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Sometimes what your body needs is a vacation, or even a staycation, to recover. Taking paid time off can often feel taboo because the work grind never stops, but if you need to disconnect and refresh, do it — and don’t be accessible. Make it clear that you won’t be answering emails or phone calls while you’re away. A little distance from the office may be necessary for your wellbeing.

Be patient

Be patient

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Once you have a plan set in stone, be patient. Burnout isn’t going to go away overnight, but your new goals are stepping stones to getting there.

Follow up about what’s not working

Follow up about what’s not working

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When you feel like enough time has passed, reflect on what has changed since you spoke with your boss. What isn’t working? If there are still some lingering issues, set up another meeting to continue the conversation and build off of or tweak what was discussed initially.

Follow up about what is working

Follow up about what is working

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If your plan is working, let your boss know. They will be happy to know that you’re feeling supported and revitalized.

Use HR as a last resort

Use HR as a last resort

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In the worst-case scenario that your boss doesn’t acknowledge your concerns or refuses to provide you any relief, you may want to contact your company’s human resources department. It can act as a neutral party and provide helpful resources to you directly.

Talk to your union representative

Talk to your union representative

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Here’s an alternative to speaking with HR: If your company is part of a union, you can consult your union leader for advice on how to proceed.

Know that you’re not alone

Know that you’re not alone

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A recent study by Deloitte showed that 77% of full-time U.S. professionals have experienced burnout at their current job. Although it is commonplace, it’s not healthy. You should get the help you need as soon as possible because stress has long-term effects on mental and physical health in ways you have never imagined.

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