Finding Balance to Prevent Burnout

Leadership can be stressful. But effective leaders use stress as a constructive force rather than allowing it to become a destructive one. Stress occurs when conditions produce awareness that some action is required to satisfy a need, to solve a problem, or to prevent some undesirable result. Without constructive stress, motivation would be at an extremely low level, and very little would ever be accomplished. Adopt the attitude that stress is a challenge to your creativ­ity – a welcome opportu­nity to perform well. Ad­just your language to re­flect this attitude. Construc­tive stress inspires people to act, to achieve, and to utilize more of their full potential for success.

Stress becomes destructive when the pressure to act cannot be met, or when one believes it cannot be met. If the perceived need to act requires more time, more money, greater skill or productivity than the individual can supply, the force of stress becomes negative. The result is physical or psychological damage – or both. Stress activates primi­tive emotions and increases body functions to meet a threat. If strenuous physical activity follows, the body returns to normal as soon as the need has been met and no further threat exists. But if the perceived threat is not eliminated by these activities, the body continues to prepare itself for meeting additional threat until a point of physical exhaus­tion is reached. All sorts of physical damage and ailments occur as a consequence of a continuous state of stress.

Even more damaging than the physical toll of stress are the psychological effects. Continuing stress that cannot be satisfied by a reasonable level of activity shortens tempers and frays nerves. It destroys the thrill and excitement of achievement because no accomplishment ever seems good enough. The resulting dissatisfaction with personal productivity causes a break­down in relationships with people at work and at home. Undue stress hampers deci­sion-making effectiveness, decreases personal productiv­ity, and blocks creativity.

“Effective leaders are positive role models;

they handle stress constructively to prevent burnout.”

Preventing Burnout

Unless you handle stress constructively, burnout is likely.  Burnout is brought about by unrelieved work stress and results in extreme emotional exhaustion and dramatically decreased productivity. Pre­vention, of course, is the preferred way of handling burnout. And, it is just as vital to prevent burnout in your people as it is for yourself. Effective leaders are positive role models; they handle stress constructively to prevent burnout.

Identify specific sources of stress, then plan and carry out appropriate actions to minimize or eliminate them. Com­mon sources of stress include:

  • work overload
  • excessive time demands
  • unanticipated or unrealistic assignments or deadlines
  • interpersonal conflicts

Involving your team members in the goal-setting process helps reduce uncertainties. Role conflicts are reduced by clear definition of roles and responsibilities. Changing job assignments sometimes helps. Team member input helps you make decisions about the most appropriate way to reduce stress. Encouraging the participation of team mem­bers in decisions that affect their day-to-day work lives and delegating authority appropriately also reduce stress levels.

When team members perceive that those in leadership positions care about them, they experience less stress. Pro­vide emotional support by paying attention to the concerns of your team members. Engage in information-gathering conversations with team members who appear to be experiencing destructive stress. Use the information you gain to help them successfully cope with performance expectations and pressures.

A variety of programs can be devised to prevent and reduce the stress experienced by employees. Some of the most effective programs include these:

  • wellness programs
  • physical fitness facilities
  • leadership training
  • group decision making
  • counseling
  • job redesign
  • flexible time off or varying working hours
  • career development activi­ties.

Each of these programs can become part of a growing preventive approach in which employee stress is reduced.

Keeping Your Perspective

If you spend the extra time you gain by setting priorities and by delegating in even more frantic attempts to work harder and move faster, you may quickly return to the same old pattern of excess stress. Remember why you made the effort to clear out the stress-producing mind clutter of old attitudes, old work habits, and old problems. Strive to enhance your enjoyment of life and your productivity by keeping all areas of your personal and business life in proper perspective and balance:

  1. Family and Home – Make your family life more reward­ing by investing some of the energy you save through better organization at work. Maintain meaningful rela­tionships with all members of your family. Exhibit the same caring for them that you do for the members of your work team.
  2. Financial and Career – Exercise careful watch over your personal financial affairs. Give attention to your own career growth and your ultimate career goals. Continue to focus on career goals. They provide you with the income, the influence and the sense of achievement that make it possible for you to achieve your goals in other areas of life.
  3. Mental and Educational – Continue to learn about your career field and of the world in general. Read something every day to stimulate thinking about important ideas.
  4. Physical and Health – Supplement the physical benefits of removing stress from your daily life by adding other positive factors such as a sensible exercise program, a healthful diet, and adequate rest. A healthy body sup­ports an active and creative mind, lengthens life, and enhances the quality of life.
  5. Social and Cultural – Your relationships with people make life worthwhile. Develop a broad circle of friends with whom you share mutual interests. Invest some of your time and effort in making society better for everyone.
  6. Spiritual and Ethical – Give attention to becoming the kind of person you want to be and to the values you want to demonstrate in your life. Give back to others some of the rewards and blessings of life that you have received. Find some cause greater than yourself that you can support with your time, money, and influence

Your personal goals program is your best ally in prevent­ing and relieving stress in every area of  life. It gives you these strengths:

  • an overall life purpose
  • a clear statement of values and priorities
  • crystallized goals • written plans with deadlines for their achievement
  • a plan for tracking progress and staying on course
  • an active system of motivational support through affirmation and visualization

Once your goals program is moving forward, a few minutes each week allows you to check on scheduled action for the week to come and note needed activities in your calendar. Additional time, perhaps each quarter, serves as a check on progress. The annual checkup provides a long-range view that lets you set new goals and coordinate your plans with those of your family and your team mem­bers. Your goals program prevents stress because you are always prepared for any situation.

Leadership Management Institute
Reprinted with permission
Strategic Essentials is a Managing Partner for Leadership Management International.

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