Feeling Burned Out at Work?

10 Reasons Leaders Put Off Doing Something About Overload and Burnout

You're feeling burned out at work.

But .. you're the owner, or you're in senior leadership. You have an idea that you think might bring relief, but it seems like wishful thinking. Even your lack of action feels like an approaching storm.

Below I share 10 reasons that might begin to explain that hesitation. I've had clients who have had to deal with each one of these 10 realities. Please don't let any one of them delay you from beating burnout and regaining productivity. 

1. The leader is resistant to change


Moving in a new direction usually involves some degree of change and we are all more or less resistant to change.  We resist because we have become comfortable in the place in which we’re at. It isn't helped by the fact you probably have an office that you can retreat to and shut the door.

We may even have become comfortable in a less than satisfactory situation. We are familiar with "the pain," but we fear the unfamiliarity of change more, so better to stay with something we already know that have to step out and experience, learn or embrace the unfamiliar. 

Secretly we want to avoid change.  We don't yet feel the pain enough to cause us to step out into the unknown.

2. The leader has grown used to the way things are and is afraid of what a different future might hold


The second reason we put off taking action, even when we are feeling burned out at work, is that it could affect us in some very personal way. Perhaps financially or in the way people see us. It could affect our position, our power or our influence.  It could even impact our career. 

You notice how the focus is entirely in the future.  Something ‘might’ happen.  Our minds are geared to protect us.  So our projecting take us to worst-case scenarios. We have a sense that avoidance may keep us from some sort of harm, and our imaginations can come up with lots of it.

The only problem is that most of our catastrophic thinking has no basis in reality. It is at absolute best an educated assumption and doesn’t take into account any positive actions you might take to alter your situation.

3. The leader believes against hope, that it might all just go away

We believe the current situation might go away.  Generally, we’re kidding ourselves.  Funny, we're so smart when it comes to so much, but not so much in this instance. We really do know the truth, but we have convinced ourselves that somehow this all might magically just disappear. The long-stressful situation will evaporate. "That" individual, an irregular person, will just go away. The company policy will change overnight. Whatever.

The only problem is, it doesn't. It hasn’t in the past and it won’t in the future. This is a great avoidance trick we pull off on ourselves. Wait just a little bit longer … maybe, just maybe this whole thing will be gone.

Don’t put off any longer. You know it is time to take action. That’s why you are reading this right now. You know you want relief and some solutions. Take hold of this opportunity to get them.

4. The leader believes there just may be no solution


We believe there are no solutions.  We're trapped. Slogging and mired in mud. We're feeling burned out at work and we figure we just have to suck it up. The lot is cast, and we have no control.  No matter what we do or don't do, there will be very little chance of any change taking place. 

Of course, and you probably "know" this as a leader, this is a very fatalistic way to think when we’re experiencing overload or burnout.  It’s a time when our thinking can be all over the place. 

When we begin to believe there are no solutions, we lose hope, because hope is based on the thought that there may be solutions, and that those solutions are within our grasp. 

And when we lose hope we start being drawn into a vortex of despair and a lack of forward moving action. I can say, there are solutions! Maybe not the ones you wish to hear, but they are available.

5. Some particular belief is holding the leader back

Most leaders and professionals are very committed. Some massively so. And some are all-in, taking an ownership in their work, that makes it personal. Most feel that to change would violate something we believe to be true.  This shows up in all sorts of ways.

  • The Executive Director who believes God has given them this assignment, therefore it would somehow be selfish to stop and take time to devote to taking care of one's self. This is why - still - most leaders who come to me for coaching around overload and burnout, don't want their names posted. They don't want their organization to find out they are dealing with such stress. 
  • The C-Suite leader who believes it is better to burn out than to rust out. The phrase is just an old cliché we've heard so often that we begin to believe it. If you are committed to your cause or company, there's no chance you will rust out. Beating burnout IS NOT rusting out. Operate differently and you'll rebuild and enhance your ability to lead well. 
  • The leader or manager who believes they may be violating an "unwritten" work expectation.  Somehow it would be an admission of weakness to reveal that they are experiencing stress, and to request finding a new way of moving forward at work.
  • Caregivers like doctors and nurses often feel the need to keep pushing on for the sake of those they care for. They believe the need is so great that pausing to recover would be like a dereliction of duty. The only problem is, they are pushing, trying to overcome, with the end result of possibly becoming a patient of some sorts themselves. It's super hard, but they must pay attention to what is going on. 

Our beliefs, right or wrong, can sometimes stand in the way of us getting the help that we need.

I have worked with so many executives and leaders feeling burned out at work. To a person, they find that addressing some misplaced belief is the very path to finding the relief they need. 

6. The leader doesn't want to have others think poorly of them

In my experience, many leaders put off taking the steps to beat burnout because they don't want to disappoint other people. This is excruciatingly so for those who recognize themselves as "people-pleasers."

They rightly discern that leadership, colleagues and other stakeholders have expectations.  They are watching for performance. They "expect" performance. And the frazzled leader wants to meet up to that.

The leader manages their image so that someone else will be pleased with them.  Because they don't want to disappoint, they continue on a course of action that is actually doing harm, and probably producing diminishing returns.

To admit we are feeling burned out at work may cause someone (or a higher boss) to take a negative view of us. It has a huge price emotionally and the results spill out into every area where people work.

The cost may be even higher in our private lives. The gruelling price of burnout spills out well past work and affects family, friends and community. 

There is a great need just to be you. You may not much like who that is right away. It will take some getting used to the new you. But in the end you will be much happier not living the dual life.

7. The leader is afraid that even after change, they will be back in the same situation all over again


Another reason we put off taking the steps to beat burnout is that we don't know how to go about it to make it last. 

We may have done something about it in the past.  We may have taken steps to reduce the stress that we were feeling only to find that in a short period of time we were right back doing the same old things again.  In other words, it didn't work the last time, so why should I try it again. 

We can get caught in a loop, can't we. And it's on a point such as this, that the benefit of working with a coach becomes evident. You can't just keep trying the same old thing over and over. A coach can help you figure out a better way forward. 

Certainly in the case of my executive leadership coaching, clients attend to two things.

  1. Gaining some immediate relief from the burnout itself.
  2. Adjusting the habits, practices, strategies and beliefs that contributed to this situation. 

8. The leader doesn't know how to say "no" to people

Even leaders may have weak personal boundaries.  Boundaries are kind of like fences around your property.  They stop other people from using or abusing your property.  They stop others from throwing their garbage on what belongs to you.  If you have no fences, anyone can throw anything they want on your property, and chances are, somebody will. 

Example? Some of us rarely say ‘no’ to people.  We want to "get along with" them, and we say ‘yes’ to any and all requests for our time and involvement. We attend meetings that don't really require our input.  We allow people to interrupt us by phone, email, text or via some agreed on platform.  We allow them to come into our office and talk.  We allow them to continue speaking to us in ways that are irritating, and we make no objection. Stressful? Absolutely. And that stress is cumulative.

There are a thousand and one ways that we allow people to violate our personal and professional boundaries. That needs to stop. Rebuild personal boundaries that protect your time, emotional energy and involvement.

9. The leader doesn't want to face some tough issue that they believe will likely come up


Even as the stress and emotional pain increases, some leaders will continue feeling burned out at work, because the alternative means they may have to face "some stuff."  

It's stuff that is going to be difficult to face.  It may have to do with team or company relationships that have been strained.  It may have to do with activities that we have been engaged in that we don't want to face up to.  It may simply expose us as people who are not very effective in carrying out our day to day routine.

Whatever the reason, moving forward and facing change is going to be probing, exposing and at the very least embarrassing, so we hesitate, and we continue on with the pain of overload and burnout. 

In a way, this is simply hiding?  It's playing a game of deception.  It's banking on the fact that perhaps no one will discover the real me.  And it's playing to the assumption that if they did discover the real me, they wouldn't like what they see.

In fact, they will may well appreciate you that much more for having the insight to do something about your situation. 

10. The leader is on a perpetual adrenaline high from hurry and work


While there may be many more, the final reason that I'm going to give explaining why people put off taking steps to beat burnout is that we are addicted.  Overload and burnout are very closely tied with adrenaline levels. 

When we constantly need to be out facing stressful situations, adrenaline levels need to be up as well.  And adrenaline is a drug.  It gives us a high.  It was given by the Creator to get us off and going and responding to the challenges of the day.  But too much of it can be harmful.  It can be addictive. 

Leaders who must be in constant stressful activity and refuse to get out, even for a time, may be every much as addicted as any other addict.

God has rhythm. He created a pattern. It’s good to observe His patterns because they were designed for our benefit. His pattern is six and one, six and one, six and one. In six days, He created. On the seventh He rested. You and I need to have rhythm as well. And that consists of periods of activity and intensity followed by periods of renewal and rest. Intensity, rest, intensity, rest.

It isn’t so much the measurement I want to emphasize as it is the implementing of the principle. Our bodies and minds need time to come down off the go-go-go of a demanding stretch of responsibility. 

Feeling Burned Out at Work? Leader, be Honest.

You've considered 10 reasons why leaders hesitate - even if they are feeling burned out at work. No doubt there are others.   

Be very honest with yourself as to whether any of those patterns are true of you.  Maybe reading about this will lead you to see other truths or insights about yourself.  This may tell you why you have not solved your problem of overload and burnout.  It will take an admission that one or more of these things are true for you before you're able to move forward.

You see, we don't change for a good reason. It's because "we believe something to be true."  It may be something about ourselves, other people, or our company. It may be something about spiritual truth, those things we believe to be absolutes. It may be about our family, our job prospects, our situation. 

Whatever it is, it has reached the level of an ingrained belief, and it's going to take changing that belief in order to move forward.

It Starts with Examining How We Think


Learning how to beat burnout starts with examining how we think.  You and I need to make a distinction between what is objectively true and what is assumption. We spend far too much of our life living out assumptions.  And until we can back up and look at ourselves and our situation more objectively it's going to be hard to move forward. 

This is the real basis of coaching, to see yourself and your situation clearly and to know what to do next. 

So much of our emotional life is spent living on assumptions. If we can change how we think about something we can change our attitude toward it.  And if we can change our attitude, we can make a different decision and take better actions.  And that's what it's going to take to beat burnout.

See how what you have just read lines up with excepted definitions of burnout for you.

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What to Do Next

If you are an executive, leader or senior level professional, and you're feeling burned out at work, contact me here. We'll arrange a private, confidential meeting to see if and how I can be of assistance to you. 

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