Banishing Burnout and Building Resilience

Published on January 31, 2022.


Key Insights:

  • Two years of pandemic-induced stress calls for new ways of coping to build resilience. 
  • Become more resilient by recognizing, increasing, and conserving your resources.
  • Set realistic goals balanced with self-compassion as you build your resilience. 
Feature Insight

Employee wellbeing was important well before COVID-19, but the pandemic has accelerated the need to build the skills and resources to tolerate workplace stress and burnout.  

Supervisors have been asked to solve once unimaginable problems using skills they’ve never needed to leverage, so it’s no wonder news headlines are full of reports of high burnout. 

You’ve probably heard the common “you can’t pour from an empty cup” metaphor, meaning you can’t give what you don’t have. Similarly, burnout in the workplace happens when demands exceed our resources and we can become more resilient by understanding how to recognize, increase, and conserve resources. 

Keep these practices in mind as you work to build your own resilience and support your team in doing the same. 

Recognize your resources. Rather than pushing right past victories to the next challenge, take space for a gratitude practice. Over the next three days spend 5–10 minutes at the end of the day writing about three things that went really well on that day and why they went well. This exercise has been proven to reduce stress by simply reflecting on the support and resources you have. 

Increase your resources. Research has shown that social connections with other human beings is one of the most important resources for coping with stress. Even small interactions can help, so take a moment for casual conversation before a Zoom meeting or in the hall if you’re in the office. 

Draw on your relationships with peers, mentors, and your own manager for help with problem solving, supporting for your own growth and development, and finding meaning and purpose in your work. 

Don’t forget about the tried-and-true physical wellbeing. Daily habits related to eating, exercise, and sleep have enormous effects on your physical, cognitive, and emotional resources. Even a modest increase in physical activity, better sleep, or a healthier diet will improve your ability to cope with the demands at work and at home. 

Conserve your resources. The best way to conserve your resources is to set healthy boundaries. Start by making sure there is a shared understanding of expectations around all parts of your job, which could include when and where you work, results, priorities, decision-making, and project roles and responsibilities. Nothing fuels burnout faster than ambiguity. Establish these boundaries for yourself and for those on your team. 

It’s natural for our minds and bodies to ruminate on negative thoughts and feelings. However, dwelling on problems won’t fix them, rather it traps us in the cycle of stress with no relief. Instead, adapt a mindfulness practice. Look for practices that  are intentional, present-focused, and nonjudgmental. This could include breathing exercises, yoga (or any mindful movement), and meditation.

Building resilience is easier said than done. As you begin adopting these practices consider these tips:

  • Determine your practices. Which kinds of resilience practices will help you through your current challenges? 
  • Set realistic goals. Commitments and challenges may make it challenging to add too much to your already busy schedule so start small.
  • Make it measurable. How can you incorporate measurability and accountability into your new practice? Find an accountability buddy or track your accomplishments in a document or journal.
  • Try again! Now is not a great time to not get caught up in perfectionism. Be gentle with yourself and remember that doing something, even if it’s small, is better than doing nothing.