Burnout: a dirty word

High achievers – including professionals, workaholics, students and athletes – often set mammoth tasks to achieve their goals, Emily Rotta of Transitional Support writes.

As professionals, teachers and school councillors are susceptible to developing compassion fatigue – particularly as they seek to help students deal with traumatic events.

High achievers are task orientated – generally on a quest to succeed and to be their best. They strive to complete many tasks throughout the day and often spread themselves thin while trying to multitask. They can be very hard on themselves – endlessly pushing and driving themselves to succeed.

Burnout is not often discussed openly. Burnout is a dirty word to the high achiever who may be unwilling to admit or be unable to understand the impact of burnout or identify if they are at risk.

What is burnout?

Burnout is a term used when your body, mind and soul slow down due to overworking and high levels of prolonged stress. People suffering from burnout may experience physical or mental collapse and fatigue. Common signs and symptoms of burnout include:

  • no longer having the energy to
  • complete tasks
  • feeling run down and drained of
  • physical or emotional energy
  • hearing yourself saying ‘I don’t have the time’
  • losing interest in your goals
  • feeling frequently tired and fatigued
  • feeling overwhelmed
  • increase in stress levels
  • becoming easily irritated by small problems
  • isolating yourself from friends and family
  • feeling that you have no one to talk to
  • feeling under an immense amount of pressure to succeed
  • no longer believing you can juggle all the demands expected of you
  • feeling that you are achieving less than you should be
  • finding it hard to unwind and having difficulty sleeping
  • working or training long hours, and
  • taking work home.
If you can relate to the above situations and symptoms or you have experienced many of them frequently, you may be at risk of burnout, which also increases your risk of serious physical and mental illness. It can cause disengagement from your workplace and family – particularly if you are feeling unsupported by your employer, manager or trainer.

Burnout can impact anyone – affecting around 27% of Australians – and is a global issue. In fact, burnout statistics are inaccurate as many people feel ashamed to seek support. People in professions that are centred around helping others are at greater risk of burnout, which can lead to what is called compassion fatigue.

Burnout v compassion fatigue

Compassion fatigue is defined as the emotional residue stemming from the exposure of working with those suffering from the consequences of traumatic events. The prolonged exposure of listening to traumatic stories makes you susceptible to compassion fatigue and is not always easily identifiable.

However, burnout is about being ‘worn out’ and can affect any profession. The impacts of burnout gradually emerge over time and are directly linked to stressors within one’s working and personal life. Things that inspire passion, drive and enthusiasm are stripped away as tedious, unpleasant thoughts take over.

As professionals, teachers and school councillors are susceptible to developing compassion fatigue – particularly as they seek to help students deal with traumatic events. What is becoming increasingly apparent is that in providing help to their students, teachers and school support staff are neglecting themselves.

Emotional intelligence reduces risk

Developing your emotional intelligence (EQ) can reduce your risk of burnout and compassion fatigue. Increasing your self awareness and learning how to manage your emotions and reactions by checking in with yourself, your feelings, your responses to situations and your wellbeing is the pathway to developing your EQ.

Ongoing development of your EQ improves your personal and social competence, increases your social awareness and self-awareness, while enhancing your ability to self manage your emotions and responses. EQ growth not only reduces the risk of burnout and compassion fatigue but also increases your resilience, strength and ability to bounce back during adverse times. Additionally, it reduces your susceptibility to major stress disorders including chronic fatigue and depression.

What is emotional intelligence (EQ)?

EQ is taking the time to think before reacting – a critical skill to have when we are time poor due to the numerous emails, telephone calls and meetings requiring our immediate attention. Using your self awareness skills to notice your feelings and identify your needs, helps you to decide if your needs are being met.

EQ is a pathway to cultivating personal relationships with people. Fostering your relationships and social awareness skills helps you better appreciate the needs and feelings of those around you, which, in turn, cultivates rewarding interactions and connections with others. Creating a network of like-minded and supportive people further strengthens your ability to cope and manage challenging situations, both personal and professional, and improves your motivation and focus.

Developing your EQ skills

The only way to understand your emotions and which EQ skills need developing is by spending time thinking about them and reflecting on them. Do this by keeping a journal on your feelings, your responses to situations, and your triggers, to help you to better understand yourself. Self reflection is the first step to improving your EQ skills.

Development of your EQ is one of the many characteristics Transitional Support assesses to help you to create a shift in your life.

In providing guidance and advice to members of IEUA-QNT through professional development sessions, it is clear that burnout is a burden we as professionals share collectively. It is therefore important that, as a collective, teachers and school support staff make it clear that burnout needs to be addressed organisationally at a school level.

Workplace burnout prevention

Implementing and facilitating self awareness, self care and self management education into existing organisational structures is the most effective way of reducing the risk of stress related disorders such as compassion fatigue and burnout.

The benefits of a workplace program and ongoing professional development into self awareness and management increases early identification, increases staff retention, promotes active self care and decreases absenteeism among staff.

Transitional Support helps organisations to identify and implement ongoing workplace wellbeing programs.

Increasing workplace EQ enhances employees’ self awareness and their ability to manage their emotions by taking responsibility for their behaviour and reactions to situations – thus improving workplace relationships and work satisfaction.

Wellbeing and workplace EQ programs help employees to feel supported within the organisation – especially in high risk, high demand professions.

Employer supported wellbeing programs increase morale, productivity, job satisfaction, and decrease negative responses and emotions, blame of others and avoidance of change. Emotions are contagious, and wellbeing programs create a workplace atmosphere that leaves staff feeling supported and more optimistic towards their employer and their profession, while also developing a collegial, supportive team environment among colleagues.

Find out more about Transitional Support at www.transitionalsupport.com.au.

Emily Rotta is a Blue Knot Trauma Informed Practitioner, ACA Professional Supervisor, Level 4 Counsellor and CDAA Careers Practitioner. Having previously worked as a Guidance Officer at Catholic and Education Queensland schools – as well as a Senior Teacher in secondary schools – Emily provides professional advice and guidance through regular presentations and Professional Development sessions at IEUA-QNT.

As professionals, teachers and school councillors are susceptible to developing compassion fatigue – particularly as they seek to help students deal with traumatic events.