Leaders! There’s no badge for burnout

Penny HaslamBlog, Coaching & training, Make Yourself a Little More Confident

My Brownie Guide handbook didn’t deal with mental health. There was certainly no badge for it. Making a bed (House Orderly), laying out a tea tray (Hostess), and jumping over a garden cane resting on two plant pots (Agility), was where it was at for my early 80s Brownie Pack.

Which was a shame, because I fell head long into a spot of burnout in my early career at the BBC. I worked hard, had ambition and enthusiasm – the things for which get you recognition and a boost up the career ladder.

But before long I found myself rocking in a darkened corner, weeping with exhaustion. In the mid-90s you pulled yourself together, and I was back at work after a fortnight. But let me tell you, burnout is not pretty and can take years to recover. The trouble was I hadn’t learnt how to pace myself, and wasn’t able to look at life in an objective and calm way.

Thankfully things have moved on and the young leaders of the future, the Brownies and Guides, now have the chance to learn skills that help them deal with their own mental health, and how they react to life’s challenges with the new Think Resilient badge.

What is resilience?

Resilience refers to the way in which we respond to life’s events. It’s about bouncing back, not sliding under. Resilient people still have to endure adversity in their lives, but they will recover more quickly than those who are less resilient. And who doesn’t want a badge for that?

For grown-ups in the workplace, there’s a pressing need to be resilient. Cuts in budgets and staffing levels, along with pressure to perform well in these circumstances, over an extended period of time, is taking its toll.

Resilience coach Pam Burrows who works with large organisations, like the NHS and big accountancy firms, says demand for resilience training has increased in the last three years.

“People in my workshops arrive depressed and anxious. Teams can’t pull together in the same way anymore because they’re tired and intolerant of each other, which is bad news for business.”

Not only are teams not performing as well as they might, workplace pressure brings a big price tag for employers, as 43% of all sick leave in 2014/15 was caused by stress.

Burrows indicates that although workers are being stretched like never before, it’s women who’s mental health may be at most risk. She says they quite often doubt themselves, and that they are twice as likely to suffer from anxiety as men.

“It’s hard to say enough is enough, especially if there’s job insecurity, and at a time when you’re trying to get ahead in your career. A lot of younger women I coach have internalised the problem and really believe that they’re not good enough.”

Deborah Mills is chief strategy officer for Proctor and Gambol at the advertising giant Saatchi & Saatchi. She also blogs under the witty guise of Mrs Mutton and thinks that resilience is paramount in leaders who should also role model it for junior staff.

Mills recommends acknowledging the pressure you’re under but demonstrating a calm and confident approach to problem solving, that doesn’t impact on your personally. And this is why having a raised profile as a leader, an expert who knows what they’re doing, it so important. Teams look up to you and need you to show them how to be.

“There’s not much you can do about the workload, but you can show your people how it can be managed and change their environment to make sure they feel valued – which goes a long way to reducing stress and anxiety.”

Something I could have done with when I was a junior researcher, hurtling towards exhaustion.

For leaders themselves, Mills suggests finding good networks, socialising with their team, having a life outside work and for women in particular, to recognise that perfection is the enemy.

“Women often want things done absolutely right before they call it a day. But ‘good enough’ is when the work should stop, not when it’s perfect. Otherwise, you’ll feel endlessly responsible, which ultimately undermines your resilience.”

Not sure Brown Owl would’ve agreed when I was a Brownie, but when things are heading in the wrong direction there’s comfort in knowing how to make a nice cup of tea. Tea tray and doilies, optional.

Get YOUR resilience badge with Pam Burrows’ Five Habits for Resilient Leadership:
  1. Develop techniques to feel good on a bad day, and stay calm.
  2. Tune into yourself and answer the question ‘what’s the right thing, right now?”
  3. Maintain good mental health – what are you doing each and every day to help you keep sane? For example, exercise, socialise, hydrate yourself, and meditate.
  4. Learn how to assert yourself so you can challenge what doesn’t fit and so that resentment and stress doesn’t build up.
  5. Set yourself a realistic number of things to do each day, and celebrate what you achieve, don’t focus on what you didn’t do. (Most of us give ourselves far too many things to do, then feel frustrated and disappointed when we don’t manage everything – even though it wasn’t humanly possible in the first place!)

If resilience training is on offer at your workplace snap it up. The mental health charity MIND and the Samaritans also both run reasonably priced resilience training programmes around the country.