Dec. 1, 2020

Leading through Burnout

What can we do to prevent burnout and recover when we feel we’ve reached our limit?

What is Burnout?
Do you feel exhausted at the end of the day, either physically, emotionally, mentally, or a mix of all 3? Do you feel like you are caught in a negativity loop, withdrawing from work, or more irritable? Do you feel like you are less productive? You may be experiencing burnout.

While we may project signs of burnout outwardly, there are also fundamental changes that take place in our brains. That’s right – burnout isn’t just a feeling, but a physiological change in our brain.

Burnout in the Brain.
Researchers at Karolinska Institutet in Sweden observed that individuals experiencing burnout had altered neural circuits, meaning that the part of the brain that is involved in stress activation and threat detection was constantly being turned on (1). This reduced the connections to the parts of the brain that are involved in higher cognitive functions like logical reasoning, problem-solving, and decision making. They predicted that these changes could present as memory and attention difficulties and increased negativity and irritability, all of which are common signs of burnout.

So if burnout isn’t just a feeling and if we all exist somewhere on the continuum of peak performance to burnout, why are we not placing a greater emphasis on recovery?

Leading through Burnout:
Recovering from burnout is an active process, not a passive one. Yet, we are not often taught how to recover from or prevent burnout. The good news: there are skills, habits and work design that aid recovery from burnout and facilitate burnout prevention! The work does not stop, the future brings more projects, more change, more uncertainty, and by shifting our mindset and perspective we can allow for a different and effective approach to work.

As a leader, how do we hold space for others, but also ourselves? How do we lead through burnout, when we are experiencing it ourselves? There is no playbook, but if we take a page out of airline safety, a leader has to put their oxygen mask on, before they can help others. Actions often speak louder than words, so if you are not investing into your own health and wellbeing, then why would your team prioritize theirs? We need to be able to create meaningful change and supportive environments that promote energy and enhance productivity and that starts with YOU!

Recovery & Prevention
Our Burnout: Prevention and Recovery program is designed to focus on science-based strategies for practical application and skill development for leaders. It will provide an inside look into the factors that contribute to burnout and how it impacts the body and brain. We will cover stress management techniques that optimize recovery and explore how burnout impacts individuals, teams, and organizations. We will also identify leadership tactics to help prevent burnout. If you are interested in learning how to reduce the risk of developing burnout within yourself and within your team, register now.


(1) Golkar, Armita, et al. “The Influence of Work-Related Chronic Stress on the Regulation of Emotion and on Functional Connectivity in the Brain.” PLoS ONE, edited by Daniel Margulies, vol. 9, no. 9, 2014. Crossref, doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0104550.