Tired of Being Tired? The Way Out of Burn Out.
Someone asks if you can (fill in the blank). You look at your calendar. That hour is open. You say, “yes.” You forgot that hour was designed for something you’ve been meaning to do, for yourself. You’re angry (with yourself) for forgetting. You promise to do better tomorrow.
The next day… repeat.
The only way I know out of tired-induced-people-pleasing is to set boundaries and stick to them. And this is hard, for me.
Examples of boundaries: Putting an hour in your calendar during the day to exercise; blocking 30-minutes between meetings to work; limiting one day each weekend to kids’ sports. Boundaries are parameters that guide our behavior. Putting a boundary in place doesn’t mean saying no. Boundaries create the conditions that tell us, without struggle, when to say yes.
Before I had my son, I traveled for work constantly. Some weeks I was on the road for six consecutive days, in three different states. And I loved every second of it. Audience + microphone = happiness. When I had a child, I knew that schedule wasn’t going to work. So, I set boundaries. I decided how many nights per week I would travel, the time I needed to be home from each trip, and how many hours I was willing to fly. And I didn’t violate those boundaries for 8 years. If a piece of work would require me to violate my travel boundaries, I said no without struggle, no matter how much I wanted to do that piece of work. The boundaries made the decisions easy. There was no deliberating or debating.
I’ll admit, I’m not as effective as setting boundaries in other areas of my life. Last week, I had a yoga class on my calendar. When I learned a repair person was able to be at my house during that hour, the yoga class was quickly deleted from my calendar. Yesterday, I asked my son what he wanted for breakfast, before flag football. He wanted scrambled eggs and a smoothie. I made both, knowing there wasn’t time. We were late for flag football. What was missing in both situations? Boundaries.
How does this apply to work? The key to preventing tired, burnt-out employees is to make it safe to speak up. As I wrote earlier in the year, burnout is a systemic issue, not a personal one. Burnout at work comes from too much to do, over time. One way out – make it safe to tell the truth at work.
For the most part, no one wants to admit to their boss that they are overextended or overwhelmed. Doing so feels like failure, and who wants to admit failure? If you want employees who are energized versus exhausted, focus on making it safe to tell the truth at work.
Five ways to make it safe to tell the truth at work:
- Leaders and managers share their own truth. See the top of this blog for what that could sound like.
- Ask employees meaningful questions. “How’s it going?” is not a meaningful question. Try: “What are your preferred working hours? What times a day would you prefer not to be contacted?”
- Show appreciation when employees risk and say hard things.
- Reward the truth. Make employees who are willing to say hard things a positive example.
- Help employees problem solve to manage their time and priorities. Be ‘in it’ with them.
The good news about violating boundaries is you will get another chance to do it differently tomorrow. You can always reset a boundary. This time, tell the other people in your life about your boundaries. Tell your coworkers if you don’t do happy hours after meetings, 7:00 am Zoom calls, and back-to-back meetings, and tell them why. Then offer an alternative. Everything in life is a negotiation.