What’s the secret to reducing and preventing burnout?

The secret to reducing and preventing burnout? It’s all about mindset

Most employees show signs of burnout. That’s according to an external survey by Deloitte in the US which reveals 60% of employees, 64% of managers, and 75% of the C-suite have seriously considered quitting in favor of a new job that better supports their well-being. And it’s no surprise. Burnout – a state of long-term physical and emotional exhaustion – is the ultimate consequence of rising demand, increased complexity, perpetual change, and ongoing uncertainty. 

For organizations, the secret to overcoming burnout is to understand how to deal with challenges using a positive mindset. That involves maximizing well-being and sustaining high-performance for themselves and other people. In fact, the best leaders and organizations identify, reduce, and even prevent burnout. Here’s how.

How to identify the signs of burnout 

It’s easy to overlook the warning signs of burnout. That’s because we tend to seek out ways to rationalize, minimize, and even normalize them. People with burnout have a negative mindset and frequently feel:

  • Drained, depleted, exhausted, or empty
  • Frustrated, reactive, anxious, or overwhelmed
  • Distracted, scattered, spacey, or bored
  • Apathetic, uninspired, disengaged, or aimless

By the time these symptoms are visible, they’ve already taken their toll. What’s been lost in the downward spiral towards burnout is the most fundamental fuel for performance: a positive mindset.

The time to intervene isn’t when someone has run out of energy, but when a person’s energy begins to turn visibly negative and volatile. This negative mindset is ‘Survival Mode’. It’s the state we all reactively fall into when we begin to feel overloaded, overwhelmed, threatened, or devalued.

In a negative mindset, our prefrontal cortex increasingly shuts down and the more primitive amygdala takes over. We become overrun by our saboteurs – negative emotions and thoughts that sabotage our well-being and performance. Our dominant negative emotions include frustration, impatience, irritability, anger, anxiety, defensiveness, and the impulse to assign guilt and blame.

Internally, we need to be alert to the warning signs of burnout. These range from increased self-absorption, self-criticism, and impulsivity, to trouble sleeping and relaxing, difficulty thinking clearly and creatively, and feeling like a victim.

As a negative mindset becomes more pervasive on teams, or across whole companies, performance progressively suffers, as does our capacity for innovation and agility, both of which are critical in a time of disruption and continuous transformation.

Burnout is the ultimate consequence of spending too much time in a negative mindset. It’s the moment the system literally shuts down – physically, emotionally, mentally, and even spiritually. As a result, it’s at this precise point when organizations need more positive energy from their people that they get less.

How to reduce and prevent burnout 

Trying to think your way out of burnout can actually make things worse. That’s because the harder you think, the more you activate your survival mode. 

The solution for both organizations and individuals is in fact surprisingly simple: people need to deliberately and systematically train their brains to recover faster from a negative to a positive mindset when faced with a challenge. It’s called mental fitness, and it involves training 3 mental muscles for at least 15 minutes every day. Here’s how it works:

  1. Identify and intercept your negative mindset (or the ‘Saboteur’ part of your brain).
  2. Reset by doing PQ reps, focusing on one thing and letting go of your thoughts and emotions. 
  3. Activate your positive mindset – the ‘Sage’ part of your brain.

It’s simple and effective. The problem is that in lots of companies, there’s little to no time given to managing energy and mindset. Ever since the Industrial Revolution, free market capitalism has held on to the mantra: ‘More, bigger, faster’. Taking time out for mental fitness is perceived as being for slackers. 

In the corporate world, the need to reset and even to get sufficient sleep are often viewed as signs of weakness. Instead, in the face of increasing demands and challenges, our shared impulse is to double down on what’s worked for us in the past – to push harder, for longer, with less time off.

Most successful leaders are already practicing some form of energy management daily. They focus on one thing at a time, while exercising, meditating, walking in nature, or playing an instrument. Typically, when I introduce executives and their organizations to mental fitness for the first time, it makes sense to them in an instant.

It’s obvious, for example, that Formula One racing drivers pull into pit stops at regular intervals to have their vehicles refueled and their tires changed. The greater the performance demand, the greater the need for training your mental muscles. Yet despite knowing this, as people we’re inclined to do the opposite.

Incorporating mental fitness into our daily routines isn’t easy. Most of us are reluctant to challenge and change what we believe has made us successful, even when these behaviors begin to feel dysfunctional. This is even more true when the collective mindset – the organizational culture – supports and reinforces our current assumptions. That’s why I like to work with leaders together with their teams and organizations, since changing habits is so much easier and more fun together. 

The challenge and the reward 

Burnout will only worsen if organizations fail to challenge the ‘More, bigger, faster’ mantra. This has to begin with senior leaders who practice mental fitness and help others to do the same. That’s because they serve as role models and advocates for the ability to deal with challenges in a positive rather than a negative mindset. The reward? Better well-being and more sustainable high performance for you and your organization. 

If you’re serious about maximizing well-being AND performance for you and your organization, book a complimentary 50-60 min meeting with me. Book now

Further reading:

  • The Power Of Full Engagement by Jim Loehr & Tony Schwartz
  • Positive Intelligence: Why Only 20% Of Teams And Individuals Achieve Their True Potential And How You Achieve Yours by Shirzad Chamine