When people hear the word burnout, they tend to think of certain groups: executives, entrepreneurs and high-flying financial traders.
But this particular form of stress, fatigue and exhaustion can hit a much wider circle – including VAs, PAs and EAs.
Ask yourself some questions.
Do you feel out of sorts with work but are not sure why?
Do you always feel tired? Disengaged? Unmotivated?
Are you checking the clock to see when it’s time to finish?
Have you found yourself snapping at colleagues, being a bit short with clients or feeling annoyed at friends or family – often for little or no reason?
These are signs of burnout.
What is Burnout?
I’ve heard ‘burnout’ described in different ways. According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), it is defined this way:
“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy
Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
In a nutshell, someone who has burnout experiences a combination of exhaustion and disillusionment.
Anyone can become highly fatigued and feel like they are running on empty. Burnout, it seems, often hits the people who are the most committed to their work.
What are the Warning Signs for Burnout?
Knowing what burnout is, how do you spot it – in yourself or others?
Symptoms are said to include:
– Low energy and little interest at work.
– Trouble sleeping.
– Experiencing feelings of emptiness.
– Displaying a negative and critical attitude at work.
– Experiencing physical complaints such as headaches, illness, or backache.
– Dreading going into work and wanting to leave once you’re there.
– Easily irritated by team members or clients.
– Thinking your work doesn’t have meaning or make a difference.
– Pulling away emotionally from your colleagues or clients.
– Feeling that your work and contribution go unrecognised.
– Blaming others for your mistakes.
– Considering quitting work or changing roles.
As you can see, burnout is different to stress.
Most of us will have experienced stress at some point in our careers and businesses. However, stress is typically short-term and may result from feeling out of control, out of one’s depth or facing a big project with a tight deadline. Once the situation changes, we lose the stress, either partially or completely.
Burnout is usually a longer-term condition. You end up ‘going through the motions’ instead of being fully committed to your work. It feels like you’re running on empty or out of gas.
Causes of Burnout
Burnout is often caused by not having much control over your work or feeling there’s never enough time to finish projects and tasks.
Professional assistants might be weighed down by an excessive workload, disengage because work is too dull or routine, or lack direction through fuzzy goals or no goals.
Issues can arise if you’re working in a dysfunctional organisation or team or have little or no support from your boss or bosses. If you’re working flat out yet getting little or no recognition, from your organisation or clients, that can sow the seeds of burnout.
Whatever the cause, burnout is not good for anyone. So, what can be done to avoid it?
Ways for the Professional Assistant to Avoid Burnout
I’m not a health expert, I’m a training expert in Microsoft Office and 365. But I do know what professional assistants experience in their day to day.
Some are my clients. Some are in social media groups and online communities I belong to. I work with my own VA.
Here are some ways to help avoid burnout.
1. Watch out for the Warning Signs
The first thing to do is be watchful and mindful. Look out for the telltale indicators that what might seem like stress is, in fact, turning into burnout.
Some of the symptoms to watch out for are given above. Do a daily and weekly check-in on how you’re feeling.
If you work within an organisation, you would hope that colleagues would also notice any changes and say something. But, especially if you work alone, you may not have that support base. That’s when having family and friends around helps.
2. Do More Purposeful Work
For many assistants, work is about more than earning a salary or income. Their job or business is about something bigger than that.
When we do work that we love, that energises us and we can see makes a difference, we’re usually in a good place. If work feels like working on a factory-floor conveyor belt, with little appreciation, that’s probably not going to inspire.
How do you feel about your job or business right now? How does it make the lives of others better? Does it feel like this is your purpose on the planet?
If the answers are not so positive, it may be time to consider another role, another organisation or a shift in your business.
How can you bring more meaning and purpose to what you do?
3. Take Control
As a PA or EA, there may be frustrations at how executives ask you to work. They do it one way yet you know there’s a better, more effective and efficient way to do it.
Look for ways to create more autonomy in what you do. Speak up. Try talking to your boss or the relevant bosses to see if they’re open to letting you have more control over tasks, projects or deadlines.
As a VA, you may feel there are times when clients frustrate you, too. When you take charge, lead, guide and reassure your client, things are likely to improve.
Taking control is also about managing your time. Have your goals for the day, week, month and year. Ensure the ‘to do’ list does not end in overwhelm. Prioritise tasks and be efficient with your time.
When you are in control, there’s less risk of burnout.
4. Work More Productively
When every day at work feels like flying through a tornado, it may be because tasks are taking much longer than you would like them to.
Time to make life easier for yourself – and serve bosses or clients better.
If, like so many professional assistants, you are using Microsoft Office and 365, it pays to master the essentials.
If a typical daily task takes 15 minutes and you discover a shortcut that reduces it to only nine minutes, you save 6 minutes every time. That’s half an hour EVERY week.
That saves you up to 25 hours every year.
Time back for yourself. Less stress. More confidence to carry out that task. The incentive is to find other ways to be more efficient with Microsoft Office and its suite of applications.
It’s why I created online courses for Tomorrow’s VA – The Hub which covers the usual suspects of Word, Excel, PowerPoint, Outlook and Teams.
And it’s why I designed a new programme, aimed more at PAs and EAs, called Microsoft Office Mastery for the Savvy Assistant. Windows 11-ready, it not only covers the classic apps, it also teaches you in bite-sized steps how to use OneNote, OneDrive, SharePoint, Forms, Sway, Office on the Web and Bookings.
All my courses are there to help the professional assistant do more in less time. When you do more in less time, you get time back. You’re more in control. That reduces stress and the risk of burnout.
5. Manage Your Stress
People deal with stress in different ways. There are many options to consider and it’s about finding what works for you.
I’ve shared tips and techniques about this before. Think:
- Stress diary or journal
- Relaxation techniques like meditation or mindfulness
- Mindset coaching
- Going for a walk
- Eating healthily
- Taking regular breaks
- Booking at least one holiday a year
Most people in work or business experience stress from time to time. Even those who appear calm on the outside and hide it well. Usually, most people can deal with that fine.
What we all want to avoid is allowing stress to morph into burnout. Having had that ‘running on empty’ feeling myself – after a hectic few months of putting together new courses and training – I recognise that I was on the road to burnout.
In my case, fatigue made me unwell and that forced me to rest and review how I was working. That saved me from heading into burnout.
I’ve made some changes in the way I work to prevent something similar from happening again. I trust you will do what you can to look after yourself in this busy world of ours.
Have you experienced burnout? Do you have a tip or technique for managing stress? Do share in the comments below.
P.S. I am thrilled to share that I made it to the Grand Finals of The VA Voice Awards – the deadline runs until 30th April so there is still time if you wish to vote for me.