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How Women Can Fight Back Against Burnout

A woman holding her head in her hands in frustration at a cluttered desk

According to research shared in a recent article by Harvard Business Review, 42% of women felt burned out in the last few months and one in three women had considered reducing their hours or stopping work completely. The amount of burnout facing women today is concerning, and things have only gotten worse since the pandemic.

What causes so much burnout, especially for women? Our book club read for this past March, Pay Up by Reshma Saujani, spent a lot of time talking about this issue. In the first chapter, she shares the fact that 66% of American women work more than 40 hours a week at their jobs in addition to 5.7 hours spent per day on household labor and childcare. You don’t have to be a mathematician to figure out that these numbers are far too much for one person.

Women often do more unpaid work at home than men like household chores, caring for children, or elderly relatives. But even women who aren’t mothers feel more pressure to prove themselves at work by working extra hours or feeling unable to say no to additional projects or tasks. Despite the extra work, women are still less likely to be promoted, leading to more frustration and burnout.

There’s no one size fits all solution to burnout, but we have a few steps to share to help you fight back against getting burned out.

Check in with your feelings

The best way to fight burnout is to recognize the signs before they get out of control. Here at JennQuest, we’re all about emotional self-awareness. It’s a critical skill to have before you can build on any other emotional intelligence competency. Without understanding how you’re feeling or why you’re feeling it, you can’t treat the root cause. Check in with yourself regularly to look for symptoms of burnout.

Some signs can include:

  • Irritability

  • Difficulty concentrating

  • Insomnia

  • Headaches & other body aches

  • Lack of motivation, especially at work

In another of our recent book club picks, How Are You, Really? by Jenna Kutcher, she talks about how important it is to ask ourselves how we’re really feeling. Sometimes, we might be a little afraid to know the answer. “The truth is, we can’t always change our circumstances. But we can always put down an anchor in the midst of the crazy. We can always pause to check in with ourselves. And we can…revisit something that once brought us comfort, stability, safety, and happiness. We can get really quiet, and really brave, and ask, How am I, really? What’s the last time I felt joy?”

As much as you may love your job and want to always be busy or productive, doing everything all the time is a guarantee for burnout. So check in with yourself often to keep burnout at bay.

Set boundaries & say no

In a blog post earlier this month, we talked about how to set healthy boundaries for yourself. If you don’t set your own boundaries, someone else will step all over your priorities. You might feel like you aren’t able to set boundaries for yourself at work, but it is possible.

For example, many people check their email after working hours are over or during the weekend. It can be tempting sometimes, but you’re letting your work life encroach on your personal time to rest and enjoy every other aspect of your life. Blurring the lines between work and your personal life is a recipe for burnout every time.

Set a boundary that you will only check your email during work hours and stick to it (unless you have some type of job where you have to be on call). If your boss won’t respect your boundaries, it’s time to start looking for a new job.

Saying no often goes hand in hand with setting boundaries. Maybe you need to say no to a project that would require you to work overtime because that’s your time with your children. It can be hard to say no, especially when a yes might help advance your career. At the end of the day, you have to decide what’s most important to you and say no to the things that try to overtake your priorities. If you keep saying yes to too much at work, you’ll end up burning out and likely leaving the job anyway!

Set a good example & don’t celebrate overwork

If you’re in a leadership position, it’s up to you to set a good example for your employees. That means you don’t answer those emails on the weekend and don’t expect your employees to either. Don’t call them at 10 PM demanding an answer that can definitely wait until morning. Actually take your vacation days and encourage your team to do the same.

We can all help change a culture that glorifies overwork, but as a leader, you have a special role to play. You set the norms for your team. Working long hours or bragging that you never see your family because you’re too busy is not something to admire.

When you set boundaries for yourself as a leader, your team will take it as a cue to do the same. Check in with your employees about how they’re feeling - Are they feeling overwhelmed? Are they struggling to prioritize their tasks? You can help them relieve some of that burden before it leads to burnout, but you also help them learn to pause and check in with themselves too.

I know it may seem impossible to take some things off of your plate. However, if you don’t start fighting back against burnout, it will force you to take a break eventually in one way or another.

I want to end by sharing another quote from How Are You, Really? because the book dealt so well with the feelings of burnout.

“But maybe you’ve taken on all of your responsibilities because - even though you love each of them for different reasons - you believe the lie that more is better. That busy is best. That joy and fun and rest can all keep scooching down on your priority list so. You can make room for the important stuff. That’s it, right there: the fact that we label work as the important stuff and joy as something to just toss onto the calendar if there’s room. That’s the shortcut to burnout.”

I hope that you will start to give the things that bring you joy and give you rest as much priority on your calendar as work.

PS: Several of our book club picks so far this year have touched on the topic of burnout. Here are links to our key takeaways from each in case you missed them or need a refresher.

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