Q: I'm surrounded by people who are afflicted with burnout. It's legit — being asked to do more with less is epidemic. While I'm maintaining some balance, what can I do to help … and to keep from catching it?
A: Help and validate, while also taking care of yourself.
You're smart to watch out, as stress is definitely contagious. For your own well-being, focus on the blessings in your life. Maintain a practice of gratitude, noticing ways in which your job enriches your life, whether it's the skills you use, the assistance it provides to others, or the relationships you form with people around you. Extend this thinking to other aspects of your life to keep your positive energy pool replenished.
I also like having a physical symbol for stress reduction; for example, a centering type of picture or even something humorous like a stuffed stress monkey toy to remind you what happens if you get out of balance.
From this grounded position, now consider ways you can be a resource to your co-workers.
First of all, simply listen. Be a safe vent space where people can blow off a little steam. Listening and validating that what they're feeling is understandable can open up new possibilities for them to problem solve. At the same time, you can probably see the risk here: You don't want to set up a negative dynamic of complaining without change, so be alert to the need to set boundaries in some cases.
Then think of practical ways to help. It sounds like you could carve out a bit of time to pitch in more, and people always appreciate even a little bit of a helping hand. For example, if you have a peer who is stressed and struggling, identify a project task that you could take on. If it's a boss, suggest tasks he or she could delegate. For someone more junior, refresh your memory on the work you used to do and help out on one of their tasks.
One of the keys is that when you're in the middle of the crunch, it can be hard to have ideas about ways someone else could help. If you come forward with specifics, that will be more helpful. So, you may say, "Bob, I'll get those meetings scheduled," or "Sandy, let me review that document for you." Then you absolutely must follow through — no slippage allowed, even if your workload shifts and you become suddenly much busier. That would be total betrayal.
What if you can't provide practical help because of time or skills? You can still do nice things for people. Bring in food if they're working long hours on a deadline or provide recognition up the ladder for their contributions.
And, as possible, advocate for change to get at the root causes of burnout so that your current situation doesn't become an ongoing and unsustainable problem that undermines business success.
Consider ways you can escalate your concerns or document the impact on outcomes that will garner executive attention.
It all comes down to being a team player by supporting your teammates in new ways; this will help you all keep moving forward.
What challenges do you face at work? Send your questions to Liz Reyer, a credentialed coach and president of Reyer Coaching & Consulting in Eagan. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.