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Protecting Ourselves and our Colleagues from Burnout

“We need to stop just pulling people out of the river. We need to go upstream and find out why they are falling in” Desmond Tutu

When we work with those on the front line, be they social care workers, staff in schools or NHS staff, the reasons they give for their sense of “burnout” are not relating to the people they are supporting in their professional roles. It’s often not about the families, the pupils or the patients, but about the systems they find themselves working in. This is where the build-up of frustration and prolonged stress is rooted.

We can learn to look after ourselves with some basic self-care practices, but this won’t combat the feelings of not being valued or listened to as a professional, or not having a voice to be able to address the challenges which exist.

We often encounter good people, with professional expertise and the wisdom of experience, who are highly motivated to find sustainable solutions to these challenges. However, as an increasing amount of research shows, like many of their colleagues, these good people can suffer burnout caused by a disconnect between themselves and the values and relational culture of the organisation they work for. A sense of belonging, of being valued as an individual and a sense of self-agency are all crucial to creating an emotionally healthy culture. Many organisations proudly display their “values” on their walls and in their promotional material, and yet the lived experience of their employees feels very different.

For each of us to work at our best, to feel inner motivational purpose, to work well as part of a team, to innovate and to reach high performance standards together, we need to be working within a culture of psychological safety. When you add in the kinds of challenges we have all been facing over the past 18 months, this is no longer a “nice to have” for our workplaces, but rather a necessity, if we are to protect ourselves and our colleagues from burnout.

Where to start?

Create opportunities for open communications

  • In our frontline professions particularly, there can be a tendency to be unaware of or to hide away feelings of burnout, with guilt frequently playing its part. Leaders at all levels need to model that it is healthy, necessary and professional to look after oneself.

  • Ensure that reflection on how everyone is feeling happens both informally and formally, in 1:1s and in teams. Support all employees with training in spotting the warning signs in themselves and in those around them. This can include practising strategies to develop confidence in ways to approach and support others in straight forward, day-to-day ways.

Ask, listen, act

  • Invite employees to communicate their thoughts and feelings on matters which are causing them frustration. Encourage them to share the difficulties and the barriers to doing their professional jobs as they would like to.

  • Listen carefully to these thoughts and feelings – they will be worth their weight in gold as feedback for the organisation.

  • Share together these reflections and work collaboratively to create suggestions for how to resolve them, so that employees know and feel that they are being heard, valued and respected.

Be a good human

  • Show in your daily interactions that you care about the individual people around you.

  • Engage with employees who are parents or carers to see if there are simple ways in which their wider lives might be supported at work.

If this blog has struck a chord, why not contact us to find out more about our work or call us on 01865 401800


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