Workplace Burnout: Just the tip of the iceberg?

What do you mean, the ‘tip’ of the iceberg?

You know that classic image of an iceberg 90% submerged? I think of struggling to cope at work as being like that. Imagine if there was nothing else; only work. No chores, no bills, no family, no friends, no responsibilities. It would probably be very easy for you to cope indeed. But of course, this is not the reality of your situation.

As a professional myself, I have sat through COUNTLESS talks on the importance of boundaries at work; pacing, organisation and self-care. However, I’ve always had the sense this felt more like a box ticking exercise than anything rather than anything that’s actually going to benefit the staff. Why do I feel like this? Simple. They only address the top 10% of a person’s difficulties.

We all have lives waiting for us as soon as we leave the office. Children, partners, dogs, friends, gym memberships. All things that require our attention and energy as soon as we get home from work, right until we leave again the next day. Do we really think organisational techniques and streamlining admin processes is all that is required here? Couple this with deeper subconscious psychological drives which cause unhelpful, yet habitual, patterns of thinking, feeling and behaviour (that’s where I come in) and we find ourselves – you know, reading a blog about burnout over your third cup of coffee this morning wondering where it all went wrong.

Well, since I am not a business-guru, I cannot tell you how to run a business in a manner which benefits staff wellbeing, I have to fall on what I know best: therapy. And what I know about therapy is that you coping at work is really just one piece of an altogether much larger puzzle.


So, what can we do about it?

My solution? Simple. Address the whole picture. I truly believe that those that burnt out are not simply over-run with emails and admin, there are other factors at play. Long story short, certain subconscious psychological drives can easily lead us astray. These are learned in childhood and guide our behaviour as adults. We call then “Rules”. We all have them; they are stubborn, subtle, and potentially exhausting. Here are some I see all too often with my clientele: “I must never make a mistake”, “Asking for help is a sign of weakness”, “I must not let others down”, “I need to prove my worth with work”. Sound familiar?

When we see them written out like this, it becomes easy to understand why we end up exhausted. Imagine living your life by one of the above. Never making a mistake? Jeez. Having to prove worth through work? These people are doomed for exhaustion! And as I said, pile on the rest of life’s challenges and you have an individual working at about 300% capacity and very probably struggling to cope.

Final thoughts…

As I said, I’m not a business guru so I cannot tell you how to run a business more efficiently. I am also not a domestic God so I cannot tell you how to streamline your home-life (although compared to my fiancé I do alright).. But I am a therapist and I specialise in this stuff. I have worked with countless successful, driven and altogether busy people, and the struggle is always the same: spreading themselves too thinly by trying to achieve 100% in every area of their life. What can we do about it? Well, instead of focusing on the top 10%, I encourage people to take a deeper look into their past, how they feel about themselves now, what their work ethic means to them (etc..) and facilitate meaningful discussions and changes from here.

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