As Leaders, We Too Must Recognize The Signs of Burnout

by Dr. Nicole LaBeach

Do you remember the famous Energizer Bunny? The ad campaign was “Keeps going and going”. Well, some of us adopted that slogan as a personal mantra and have found out it doesn’t work so well with humans. So much so, when we look at leadership and those we lead, the slogan can result in what we now call Burnout! 

Burnout is a chronic state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion that can have a significant impact on our well-being. Often caused by prolonged stress, excessive workload, and a lack of work-life balance, burnout is a serious matter. By recognizing some signs of burnout and symptoms, we’re all better equipped to address them before it significantly affects our well-being. 

When it comes to burnout, considering the following symptom areas can ensure we’re adequately alerted before entering a full-blown crisis.

Physical Symptoms

One of the most common signs of burnout is persistent fatigue, even after adequate sleep. If you feel constantly tired and lacking energy, it may indicate that you are experiencing burnout. Burnout can also lead to difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, or waking up feeling refreshed. Insomnia or disrupted sleep patterns can exacerbate exhaustion and contribute to burnout. Chronic stress and burnout can manifest as physical pain (e.g., headaches). If you notice an increase in physical pain symptoms without a clear cause, it’s time to connect with your doctor to see if it may be a sign of burnout. 

Burnout can even take a toll on your immune system, making you more susceptible to colds, flu, and other illnesses. So, if you’re getting sick more often than usual, it may be a sign that your body is struggling to cope with stress. As leaders we can’t pour from an empty cup so it’s imperative, we pay attention to what’s happening with our physical health. 

Emotional Symptoms

Burnout can cause you to feel overwhelmed and unable to cope with the demands of your daily life, which may manifest as a sense of dread, intense blues, anxiety, or helplessness. Chronic stress and burnout can also lead to increased irritability, mood swings, and emotional outbursts. For example, if you find yourself: snapping at loved ones or colleagues more often than usual; experiencing a decrease in inspiration and love for your work, hobbies, and personal relationships; Being disinterested or disengaged in activities that once brought you joy; Feeling inadequate, self-doubt, and a low sense of accomplishment; and/or Questioning your abilities and worth, even in areas where you previously excelled; you may be experiencing burnout. As human beings, it’s up to us to stay connected with how we’re feeling and make sure being emotionally disconnected doesn’t accelerate and being a leadership derailer. 

Behavioral Symptoms

As leaders, our decision-making skills are a significant contribution to our success. Burnout can cause you to procrastinate or avoid tasks, decisions, and responsibilities thus negatively impacting your productivity, performance, and those you lead. When we struggle to complete tasks, meet deadlines, maintain our usual level of focus and performance, increase our reliance on harmful coping mechanisms (e.g., overeating), withdraw from social interactions and relationships at work and in our personal life, and/or isolate from friends, family, and colleagues, we may be experiencing signs of burnout. 

As leaders, we too must lead in recognizing the signs of burnout as the first step towards proactively addressing the issue and beginning recovery. By doing so with intention, we can prevent and/or seek help to manage burnout before it negatively affects our well-being and the well-being of those we lead and love.

Elevate your Leadership Potential

To learn more about managing burnout and executive coaching, reach out to Nicole for a consultation.