Coping with Burnout in 2020

financial planning, coping with burnout, Carson Group

This year has been an odd paradox of continuous surprises and an endless sameness. And while we are “all in this together,” we are also experiencing this year in vastly different ways and with varying forms of grief.

There’s grief for the loss of what should have been the present, grief for the loss of a loved one, repercussions of job loss, working from home and playing substitute teacher, not to mention the daunting anxiety about a future that’s still undefined.

One rare certainty is that we’ve finally found one thing to agree on – we have had enough this year!

On the other hand, this year has also magnified the fact that we have varying views on just about everything else. Throw in a few natural disasters and what will for sure be one of the most memorable elections of our time.  Also, don’t forget the fourth quarter has several major holidays. If you didn’t feel burned out already, now you might!

Managing burnout is complex enough, but add to that managing a team that’s depending on you for direction and livelihood. Your burnout as a firm leader can take on extra dimensions between your staff advisors, clients and prospects who are all living through the same uncertainty.

Let’s look at some ways of identifying and coping with burnout that can help you through a year like no other.

A Pandemic of Burnout

Burnout occurs with prolonged and repeated stress and shows up through mental, emotional and physical exhaustion. Burnout is often associated with work, but it can also be related to other areas of life.

As of today, when I googled “pandemic burnout” there were over 8.8 million results. So it might be fair to say we are experiencing two pandemics this year – Covid-19 and burnout.

If you are one of the lucky ones to not have experienced some level of burnout, consider yourself very fortunate. Many people around you are likely experiencing it, or they have, or will. One of the most very important things you should know about this new dimension of burnout is that it is normal and OK.

I’ve gone through it this year myself. I consider myself a generally high-performer and the guilt alone for the lack of motivation was hard for me to come to terms with. It’s also literally my job to partner with professionals to help them achieve the best version of themselves.

The question is more three-dimensional, especially this year. The “best version” of yourself will look different through the varying stages and seasons of life. Coping with burnout will take different forms for different people, there are no cookie-cutter answers.

How Do You Know If You’re Burned out?

As an admitted assessment junkie, my first thought was: There’s got to be a burnout assessment out there. And there was!

Most of what you can find is based on “traditional” burnout, not necessarily the 2020 version. Regardless, if you enjoy assessments you might check out the MindTools Burnout Self-Test or a common burnout test from a trusted source like Psychology Today.

We created this resource 2020 Burnout Action Plan for Financial Advisors for leaders and their teams.

Classic signs of burnout are emotional and/or physical exhaustion, depersonalization of work, and decreased personal accomplishment. I am a fan of keeping it simple, so a technique I will often use when coaching is a scaling question. In this case, I’d ask you, “On a level of 1 to 10, with 10 being complete burnout, where would you fall?” Then use that number and focus on moving that just a bit – so if you are a 7.8 on the scale, focus on getting to a 7.5.

Here are some of the other signs of burnout:

  • Increased anger or frustration
  • Excessive rigidity or lack of compromise
  • Calling out of work
  • Lack of empathy
  • Insomnia
  • Fear
  • Muscle tension
  • Anxiety
  • Headaches
  • Inability to feel happy
  • Unprofessional behavior
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Hopelessness

Some Tips for Coping with Burnout

Take a Step Back  

Look at your situation as if you were your partner, best friend or loved one. What would you tell them? Would you have a bit more empathy for them than you do yourself?

If so, give yourself permission to treat yourself better. We are so often our own biggest critic, and that is not the type of support you need to manage burnout.

Avoid Comparison 

Truly understand that we are all at different places with different levels of stress, grief and hardship. This isn’t the time to compare or judge. It is a time for grace and acceptance.

If you are experiencing burnout, give yourself grace and know that it is, in fact, more than OK – it’s normal. If you are not experiencing burnout, know that you might in the future, so be aware of the signs and how you might cope. This is also time to be there for your loved ones, team, clients and professional network and let them know this is perfectly normal.

Keep it Simple, Keep it Small 

Look for small, simple things you can do to make a difference, in the next hour, or day – keep it realistic. This might mean giving yourself more time to sleep, meditate or exercise.

Build upon those actions one at a time. Burnout is a prolonged process, and you will likely have to move out of it in a similar way. Whether it is connecting with friends and family or picking up old or new hobbies, look for small ways to bring more joy in your life.

Plan Something to Look Forward To 

I set a goal for myself to visit a national park every year. In August, it wasn’t looking like it was going to happen. But I knew how important it was to me to connect with nature and disconnect from the day-to-day.

I can honestly say that the day I decided to make the trip, I was overcome with an immense sense of relief and joy. I am days away from this adventure, and I feel more excitement than I did on my first trip to Disney.

Now, if national parks are not what makes you tick, maybe it is a relaxing weekend or beach time. Whatever it is, try to find a way to plan something to look forward to.

Think Both-And

You can find more great tips from this article: Your ‘Surge Capacity’ Is Depleted — It’s Why You Feel Awful. It includes skills like simply accepting that life is different right now, slowly building your resilience bank account (our basic needs), and one of my favorites: experiment with “both-and” thinking.

This is the idea that while things might be difficult, there are also positive things happening and you can choose to see both sides, or “both-and.” For example: “This is a difficult time and people are forced to work at home, and families are spending more time together.” Sometimes all we can change is our perspective, but that’s a vital change for our mental health.

Some Tips for Helping Your Team Cope with Burnout

As a leader, you’re in a unique position. You’re not only working with your own burnout, but you also have to help create protected space for your team to cope with theirs. You can model healthy behavior and you can foster a supportive environment.

Acknowledge and Address 

Acknowledge and address that burnout exists, and that it is perfectly normal and acceptable. I had a conversation with my manager in our last one-on-one about how as a coach, I felt like I should be more effective at handling my burnout.

Yet no one is above this, so let your team know you are there to support them and not out of the weeds yourself all the time. Sometimes helping someone else through roadblocks can also move you along with your own.

Burnout Doesn’t Always Look the Same 

Be aware that burnout might look different for different people. Share with them the signs of burnout. Create an open dialogue and privately have the team define their signs of burnout.

Encourage your team to use personal coping skills. We created this resource 2020 Burnout Action Plan for Financial Advisors for leaders and their teams.

Being a Leader in Troubled Times 

Be a flexible and conscious leader. As the leader of the team, you often set the tone for the entire group. Look for opportunities to:

  • Be calm and decisive: Setting the tone of the office is always important, but even more so in this environment.
  • Disseminate information: In a time of so much uncertainty, make sure that you are sharing information with the team.
  • Practice transparency: If you are having a particularly hard week, let them know.
  • Focus on teamwork: Encourage everyone to step in when possible. Again, burnout hits everyone in different ways and can come and go in waves, so supporting one another when we can is very valuable.
  • Check-in regularly with the team: Each week we discuss our weekly wins and you might have similar standup meetings. Use this time to ask them to privately rate how they are doing with burnout on a scale of 10, or whatever indicator you feel is appropriate. Then ask them to identify one way in which they might be able to move 1 point on the scale, or even ½ of a point on that scale. Ask if anyone wants to share their commitment for the week so that others can support them.
  • Recognize/reward good work: As always, try to be cognizant of the great work they are doing. If you are still working remotely, call to check in or send individual emails
  • Be aware of employee support programs: It’s in your company’s best interest to provide support for employees, and there are often a variety of programs available.
  • Be supportive and compassionate: This might mean you need to adjust expectations. Perhaps offer a bit of more flexibility with things such as work hours for parents that are at home with small children in virtual school. Check out this blog on working parents from Sarah Cain, Carson’s VP of Coaching, and Kelsey Ruwe, Chief of Staff.

There are a lot of unknowns ahead of us in the remainder of 2020. I urge you to regularly take a step back from and check in on yourself and those around you.

While we are all experiencing the stress of this year differently, there is one thing that can continue to bring us together: kindness. Be kind to yourself and those around you – that’s always an appropriate response.

Check out this resource you can use with your team or loved ones to help prepare to take on the 2020 burnout.

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