The Ultimate Guide to Burnout

Burnout SymptomsBurnout CausesPreventing BurnoutBurnout Recovery

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Spill's Ask a Therapist feature lets employees message a question over Slack for one of our therapists to answer with a considered response the next day. Since launching the feature in March, more than half of all the questions have been about burnout.

Dozens and dozens of men and women slumped over their keyboards are writing to Spill about burnout, not breezily (as they might talk about it at the water cooler) but in earnest, sounding — heartbreakingly — like they can't go on anymore.

But they do go on. They keep showing up. They drag themselves to their showers, log onto their Zoom calls, and they do what they do slower and with less care, snapping at colleagues and testing their bosses' nerves with relentless negativity. But they do turn up. And turning up like this costs employers a lot of money: 43% of all sick days in the UK are now due to burnout, which adds up to £5bn in lost productivity every year.

Trying to run a business with burnt-out workers is like trying to make a fire with wet wood. Burnout is about emotional exhaustion manifested in the painful trio of fatigue, negativity, and ineffectiveness. A burned out worker won't shine bright with the energy and dedication your business needs to grow, for the same reason that wet wood won't make a fire: it just can't.

But helping workers escape burnout is rather more complicated than drying wood. In fact, many bosses think it's impossible. They think burnout is a necessary byproduct of running a business, especially a high-performance, fast-growing business. And by thinking this, they adopt the only logical people approach in line with that metaphor: hire, burn, repeat. As if humans were kindling.

But humans aren't kindling. And burnout isn't inevitable. In fact, both the World Health Organisation's definition and a large-scale Gallup study say that burnout is less about workload and more about how that workload is managed. Good managers and good companies can — and do — prevent burnout altogether, much like kiln workers can prevent firewood from getting wet altogether: through careful action and intelligent preventative policies.

Good managers know that the essential property of their human workers — their humanity — is both a liability and their biggest asset.

How do they do it, though? How does a manager notice when Jane from engineering or George from design starts to show signs of emotional exhaustion? How does she bring this up with Jane and George? What does she do with them, or for them, to help them get back on track? More to the point, how does a good manager prevent Jane and George from going as far as burning out in the first place?

In Spill's Ultimate Guide to Burnout, we'll get to the bottom of these questions, drawing on learnings from published research on organisational psychology and our own experience of solving these problems for people every day.

By the way, now and again in this guide you'll come across grey boxes like this one. They're key takeouts, summarising the main point in each section.


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