Is Your Business Burning You Out?
By Michelle Collins | July 31, 2003
You already know that running a small business comes with its own unique set of challenges and rewards. However, in your effort to build a successful company you may be setting yourself up for burnout, a condition which can have long lasting effects on your physical and mental health.
During his 20 years studying burnout Dr. Robert Boudreau and his colleagues have found that people typically go through three phases when they are experiencing burnout: depersonalization, lack of personal accomplishment, and emotional exhaustion.
Depersonalization: In the first stage Boudreau explains that the individual begins to treat people as objects, in both their home and work life. This is an important indicator that the individual is having problems managing their stress levels.
Lack of personal accomplishment: People who are not able to perform at past work levels, or have lost their ability to delegate and encourage others have entered the second phase of burnout. This phase also affects others, who will likely recognize that the individuals productivity has dropped and they aren't able to motivate others.
Emotional exhaustion: This last phase is the one most associated with burnout. These people have hit a wall and can't bring themselves to want to do anything. In their exhaustion they are unable to find a reason to continue working and moving forward in their job.
Boudreau, a Professor with the Faculty of Management, University of Lethbridge says that while elements of burnout can be present in any job these final stages take years to surface.
“Sometimes people think of burnout as something they can have and get rid of in a weekend. It doesn't work that way. That's the kind of McDonald's approach to life in terms of everything is throw away and is quick.”
Managing your burnout
Burnout isn't something that you overcome, says Boudreau, it is something you manage. It will always be present and you can identify it by your own personal stress trigger. These can include things such as over eating, loss of appetite, or muscle tension. Yet the search for concrete solutions is an ongoing process.
“You would think that everyone would have the measure that's available and you would just do it. It's not like going to the doctor's office for a test in diabetes. It's more of a psychological self-report card. It's clearly something that we continue to work out. It's crucial if you're going to be able to prescribe solutions that you certainly have to know how to measure it.”
In the meantime Boudreau points to a variety of avenues that can help you manage your burnout. Things such as physical activity, progressive relaxation, hobbies, or keeping a stress log can help you ward off the extreme stages.
For the small business owner where the lines of home and work aren't always clear Boudreau points out that it's even more important to maintain some kind of distinction in order to strike a healthy balance. It can be difficult when the majority of responsibility is placed on you, yet this balance doesn't have to lead to elaborate plans. Sometimes it can just mean taking an hour to read the paper outside of the office and let the answering machine take your calls.
Regardless of the strategy that works for you don't wait for your symptoms to surface and build before you do something about them. If you wait and physical or mental symptoms start showing up this probably means that you have been suffering from chronic burnout for a period of years and recovery could take years as well. In the meantime the effects of your burnout will spread to other areas of your life and impact negatively on both home and work, explains Bourdeau.
If you've found yourself experiencing these symptoms, or even suffering the extreme stages of burnout it can be easy to fall back into your old habits. Bourdeau recommends that you watch for the signs.
“You have to become more aware of how your body responds. From a psychological perspective how do you interact with people? Are you abrupt, quick, not willing to entertain or enter discussions? Have things sat on your desk for months and you haven't touched them? Are you starting to show signs that you're not interested in doing anything?”
Above all, work to maintain a balance. Learn to recognize when you're letting your work over take the rest of your life and take conscious steps to fix that. Bourdeau recommends rewarding yourself when you've handled your stress so that you identify with positive behaviour instead of sliding back into the negative impacts of burnout.