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5 min read

How Can I Effectively Communicate Burnout to My Boss and Seek Support for a Healthier Work-Life Balance?

How Can I Effectively Communicate Burnout to My Boss and Seek Support for a Healthier Work-Life Balance?

Burnout has become an increasingly common concern among employees. But what is burnout? According to an article from Harvard Business Review, Dr. Christina Maslach, a leading burnout researcher, describes burnout as follows: “First, we feel exhausted and as though we have no energy to do good work. Second, we feel cynical and have negative attitudes toward our projects. We also experience a sense of disassociation from those projects and the people around us, whether coworkers, friends, or family. Third, burnout makes us feel ineffective, as though we’re accomplishing significantly less than usual and can’t muster the fortitude to be productive.” 

Understanding how to effectively communicate this challenge to supervisors is crucial for seeking support and maintaining a healthier work-life balance. But what is the definition of work-life balance? According to an article from CareerBuilder: “The concept of work-life balance has always referred to achieving an equilibrium between career goals and personal pursuits.” A 2022 survey conducted by Deloitte reveals that the youngest members of the workforce prioritize a healthy work-life balance above all else when selecting an employer. 

In a deeper dive, Elisa Burgos-Ojeda, Learning and Development Manager at nTech Workforce, offers her insights on recognizing burnout and strategies for addressing it with your boss. 

 

HOW CAN INDIVIDUALS RECOGNIZE SIGNS of BURNOUT? 

 

Burnout can manifest in various ways, often sneaking up on individuals. In addition to the symptoms Dr. Maslach describes above, Burgos-Ojeda notes: “Noticing a prolonged pattern of things that are unusual for you at work, such as more difficulty concentrating, over-sensitivity to feedback, brain fog, more exhaustion than normal, physical symptoms like sluggishness, and emotional numbness or loneliness even when interacting with others." Recognizing these signs is the first step in addressing burnout before it escalates. 

You might also consider in what ways you recharge outside of work, and if you are continuing to prioritize that process, Burgos-Ojeda notes. “When work or life gets out of hand it can be easy to let self-care slip, and that just compounds the issue. Whether it's time out in nature, creative pursuits, physical activity, time with friends or family, eating healthy food, pursuing hobbies or other activities, being mindful about the “life” aspect of the work-life balance is very important.”

 

HOW CAN INDIVIDUALS prepare to talk to their supervisors about experiencing burnout?

 

Preparation is key when planning to discuss burnout with a supervisor. Individuals can prepare to talk to their supervisors about experiencing symptoms of burnout by first reflecting on what they are currently experiencing and what kind of support might be needed.


"Consider what specifically feels most overwhelming right now, and what might help you manage it more effectively. Could you benefit from additional resources, support, time, guidance, a shift in assignments or other factors? Having a concrete set of possible solutions before you go into the conversation might help you feel more prepared to have a fruitful dialogue," says Burgos-Ojeda. 


It might also help to reflect on what aspects of work have helped you thrive in the past, Burgos-Ojeda recommends. Some of the questions you might reflect on include:

  • Do you thrive with more predictability of tasks and/or timelines?
  • Is it helpful to get support on breaking up large projects into smaller milestones?
  • Do you need greater clarity of expectations? 
  • What level, format, and frequency of communication about your work do you find most helpful?
  • What level of autonomy do you find most effective in specific aspects of your work?
  • Are you energized when you feel a greater sense of meaning or social connection in the workplace? 
  • Are you recharged by more interaction and collaboration with your colleagues, or more individual work, and are there opportunities for that in your day to day? 
  • What forms of feedback or recognition do you find most encouraging? 
  • What measures of progress and growth energize you? 
  • What kinds of projects or tasks do you find most fulfilling?

Once you have reflected on these questions, consider if there are opportunities for you to engage in more of the factors that help you thrive in ways that tie into your team’s goals or would otherwise benefit the company. If so, these could be helpful topics to bring to the discussion with your supervisor.

To help you prepare in the moments before the actual conversation, you can take a few minutes to do some breathing exercises or a few stretches, have a drink of water, or otherwise center yourself. While the conversation about burnout might feel intimidating, postponing it can result in the problem continuing to worsen over time.

 

WHAT STRATEGIES CAN EMPLOYEES USE TO EXPRESS THEIR NEED FOR A HEALTHIER WORK-LIFE BALANCE? 

According to a study from Deloitte, 77% of employees have experienced burnout at their job. Effective communication is vital in expressing the need for a healthier work-life balance. Employees should be honest about their current state and specific in their requests.

You might go into the conversation by first noting your commitment to your work, and asking if you can discuss some challenges you are currently facing. This can help set the stage for the conversation.

Ideally, try to be honest about what you are experiencing. This is the time to bring up any insights you may have gained from the above reflection on what factors have helped you thrive at work in the past, and what you may be finding most overwhelming at work right now.

The goal is for you and your supervisor to align as a team and work together to collaborate on possible solutions, rather than focusing on what might be perceived as accusations, excuses, or blame.

“Asking for greater support or guidance can also include asking to benefit from the experience your supervisor has gained in their own journey,” Burgos-Ojeda adds. “For example, you might ask your manager how they have navigated similar challenges in the past.” 

Implementing some tweaks to your routine, such as a workday shutdown ritual that effectively captures what you need to do the next day and leaves you set up for success can help you switch out of work mode and achieve more restful time off, so you come back genuinely refreshed. 

You might consider asking your supervisor what tips they have for effectively wrapping up work at the end of the day and see if you can incorporate some of them into your own routine, or ask their assistance in helping you craft your own.

 

WHAT ARE SOME PROCESSES ORGANIZATIONS CAN PUT IN PLACE TO HELP EMPLOYEES COMMUNICATE BURNOUT WITHOUT FEAR OF REPERCUSSIONS? 

 

Organizations play a crucial role in facilitating these conversations. Creating an environment where it’s safe to express vulnerabilities is essential. This involves establishing regular check-ins, fostering open dialogue, and ensuring that employees feel they can speak up without fear of repercussions. According to a previous edition of a nSider blog by Burgos-Ojeda: “Normalizing the conversation around employee burnout or being overwhelmed at work can be helpful for burnout prevention, and this should start with leaders.” Burgos-Ojeda recommends “having ongoing regular communications, like regular one-on-ones with the manager, that are based on a foundation of trust and rapport that is built over time.” 

Additionally, organizations can make it a priority to focus on employee mental health. In a previous nSider edition, it is suggested that: “Employers should offer benefits like mental health counseling, access to various mental health apps, mental health PTO and an employee assistance program. Offering greater flexibility also goes a long way in creating a better work/life balance for employees.” 

 

WHAT ROLE DOES PROACTIVE COMMUNICATION PLAY IN PREVENTING AND ADDRESSING BURNOUT? 

 

Proactive communication is a preventative measure against burnout. It involves maintaining regular, open dialogues about workload, personal challenges, and mental health. This proactive approach helps in identifying potential burnout early and addressing it before it becomes severe.  

An article from Upwork explains how organizations can achieve a proactive approach: “Tailor solutions to the individual's circumstances, considering their career goals, personal commitments, and development aspirations. Use continuous feedback and open communication to monitor improvements and prevent future burnout. Responding to burnout signs demands a proactive and personalized approach that demonstrates genuine care, empowers the employee, and cultivates a resilient and well-supported team.” 

 

HOW CAN MANAGERS RESPOND EMPATHETICALLY TO EMPLOYEES COMMUNICATING BURNOUT? 

 

Empathy is crucial in responding to employees facing burnout. "It is important to prioritize creating an environment of trust so that it’s safer and more approachable for an individual to have that very vulnerable conversation," advises Burgos-Ojeda. Managers should listen actively, offer support, and work collaboratively with employees to find practical solutions that address their concerns. 

An article from Indeed explains how managers can handle employee burnout effectively and compassionately, At the core, creating space for an open dialogue is key: “Employees need to understand that you care about their health and well-being, so try to maintain open communication about burnout. Reassure employees that if they notice any signs of burnout, they can discuss their experiences with you. You can also share your own experiences with burnout and how you've coped with it in the past.” 

Communicating burnout to a supervisor is a delicate process that requires honesty, specificity, and a supportive work environment. By recognizing the signs of burnout, preparing for the conversation, and using effective communication strategies, employees can seek the support they need for a healthier work-life balance. Likewise, organizations and managers play a significant role in creating an environment that supports these conversations, ultimately leading to a more productive and satisfied workforce. 

For more insights on communicating with your boss and maintaining a healthy work-life balance, visit the nSider Blog. 

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