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3 ways to use your work to combat burnout

Counterintuitive advice on how to leverage your workday to avoid burnout from the president and cofounder of Fairygodboss.

3 ways to use your work to combat burnout
[Photo: mikoto.raw/Pexels]
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The year 2020 was synonymous with crises: a pandemic, civil unrest due to racial injustice, financial instability, ongoing climate crisis, and political upheaval. While all Americans are struggling—especially as we hit the one-year mark since pandemic-related shutdowns began—working women are especially feeling the burden. As Katica Roy observed,  in fewer than 12 months, the U.S lost 32 years of progress on gender equity in the labor force participation rate of women.

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I have the unique vantage point of watching the Fairygodboss feed where women come together to talk about their careers, and it’s clear that women have reached a breaking point. Women who lost their jobs are unable to land the next one, and are frustrated by unexplained late-stage rejections or being ghosted by recruiters. If they’re able to land a new role, many find themselves making lateral moves rather than progressing upwards, just to be able to pay the bills. Those who remain struggle to manage the multiple roles of homeschool teacher, housekeeper and/or elder care provider while still working a full time job. And in many cases, the hours and expectations of constant availability associated with that full-time job have increased during the pandemic. 

According to McKinsey, 25% of women who remain in the workplace are still considering quitting or downshifting their careers. On both ends of the spectrum, women are burnt out and it’s driving them out of their jobs or keeping them out of the workforce. Much of this comes back to employers and changing the way in which we work to better accommodate all employees. But those changes won’t happen overnight. 

So while we continue to advocate and push for change, what can we do in the meantime to hold on and re-discover our passion for what we do or find new sources of inspiration to keep us going?

Here are three suggestions that anyone—not just women—can use.

Find your flow

Flow is “the mental state in which a person performing some activity is fully immersed in a feeling of energized focus, full involvement, and enjoyment in the process of the activity.” This can help neutralize anxiety and build self-confidence. It’s the feeling you get when you get so lost in the work you’re doing that you don’t realize how much time has gone by and feel more energized at the end than when you started.

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Look for areas of your day where you fall into a good rhythm and use those activities to fuel you. I’m an extrovert, so when I’m in a meeting and learning from a great conversation or attempting to persuade someone, I fall into my flow which leaves me energized and ready to take on everything I have to do that day. 

Some people find flow in writing, watching their favorite Netflix series, exercising, or working on a hobby. Others find flow when they can connect and learn from others in our virtual world. If you can, re-prioritize your work schedule to start your day with whatever energizes you. It doesn’t mean you won’t still do work that feels draining, but finding moments of flow will help create a better balance each day. And for those battling the homeschooling/childcare trifecta, giving yourself the gift of some uninterrupted daily flow time will make all the difference.

Be an ally and a helper

According to the Cleveland Clinic, there is such a thing as a “Helper’s High.” When we help others, it can improve our self-esteem, lower our blood pressure, reduce depression, and even help us live longer.

Helping doesn’t have to be a big time commitment. It can be a 10-minute chat with someone new to your company who’s still getting situated or a quick resume review or mock interview with someone you know who is on the job search. Recently, I’ve had the privilege of working with women who’ve lost their jobs due to pandemic-related layoffs through our Fairygodboss Job Search Bootcamp which has been a great way for me to offer really personalized job search advice. 

Given the increased attention to racial injustices in the workplace, an important way to be a helper is to stand up as an ally for someone whose voice may be marginalized. Personally, I’m making more time to read, learn and listen so I get a better understanding of the experiences of my Black and Latina peers, and using my platform to help amplify their voices

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Get serious about joy

When I was growing up, my father used to tell me that if work was fun they wouldn’t call it work. And yet, there’s great irony in his statement because I know my father enjoys and feels fulfilled in the work he does. 

Like him I’m lucky to have work that brings me joy, but if the work you’re doing doesn’t inherently bring you joy, where and how can you incorporate joy into your workday and how can you bring it to others? Sometimes it’s as simple as scheduling a short coffee break with a coworker or friend or taking a break for a walk. For me, it’s blocking an hour for online yoga during my workday, or listening to murder mystery audiobooks while doing those more mundane work tasks. 

How can you add joy to your work to-do list and cross it off every day? In her book, The Year of Yes, Shonda Rhimes wrote, “The year of yes is about giving yourself the permission to shift the focus of what is a priority from what’s good for you over to what makes you feel good.” Now is certainly the time to find what makes you feel good and do it.

I urge you to support one another, do what makes you feel good, speak up for yourself and for others whose voices may be overlooked, and perhaps most importantly, make time for joy. 


Romy Newman is the president and cofounder of Fairygodboss.

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