Burnout prevention needs sincere individual and organisational self-reflection for lasting success

The prevention of burnout is something that baffles many organisations. Often, they are faced with a colleague in burnout before anyone had been able to recognise the danger signals.

In order to demystify this dilemma, Pulzz interviewed Dr Michel Delbrouck regarding the key elements involved in the prevention of burnout.

Dr Delbrouck, author of various books and articles addressing the pertinent topic of burnout, is the Director of the Institute of Training and Therapy for Caregivers, an affiliated member of the Charles Baudouin International Institute of Psychoanalysis and Psychotherapy (Geneva) as well as a member and Vice-President of the Gestalt Society of Belgian.

Broadly speaking the prevention of burnout involves tackling two vital areas,

1)      the individual’s capacities, and

2)     The organisational environment

Individual Capacities

Dr Delbrouck speaks of 6 mental capacities that are important in the prevention of burnout. These capacities are also interwoven and can support each other so there are possible overlaps regarding behaviours, abilities and benefits.

1)     Regulation of emotions

The first step in prevention of burnout is the ability to self-regulate. This means the ability to regulate one’s emotions, to calm the mind on demand, to have the ability to choose one’s response to a situation rather that reacting it based on one’s emotional state. We call this the cultivation of wise behaviour.

The first step in prevention of burnout is the ability to self-regulate

2)     Imaginative capacity

It is important to ensure that individuals nourish their imaginative capacity. This can be done by following creative pursuits apart from work for which the individual might have a passion.

3)     Mental flexibility

Often individuals in the early stages of burnout can get stuck in certain working patterns. The challenge here is to invest in ways of changing what can sometimes be a rigid portrayal of the issue and developing more flexibility in how to tackle stuck working patterns. One way of doing this is by disengaging from harmful practices and influences. A concrete way of making this change is by identifying bad habits and working on changing them while also cultivating good habits with the intention of changing one’s behaviour and the surrounding environment.

4)     Attentiveness

This should not be confused with the ability to focus. Rather it is an ability to widen one’s attention to include any warning signals from the body as well as being attentive to any negative side-effects and difficult situations and having the awareness regarding their effect on you. Being able to identify and make space for things that bring pleasure and joy is also important. Attentiveness is also linked to positive recognition as it means paying attention to and acknowledging your appreciation of others.

5)     Planning

Sometimes it is not possible to make all the changes we need in order to feel we are successfully managing our work stress and demands. This is where the ability to construct a plan of action comes in handy. If we are able to formulate this plan with the relevant milestones we will be able to track progress and also have the ability to slowly take more control of our daily work situation. Coupled with the regulation of emotions, this also allows for choosing responses that might reap benefits much further down the line.

6)     Taking the initiative

Coupled with the ability to regulate one’s emotions and having greater awareness of choice when faced with situations, the individual is better able to implement initiativesand make conscious decisions towards a preferred direction of one’s life. This will help the individual move from a place of dependency on a situation to a space of auto-determination, with perception of true intentions and motivations while being able to also focus on personal projects.

The organisational environment

The “behaviour” of organisations is another key element in prevention of burnout. Like individuals, organisations can also be seen as organisms which have their own identity, values, judgements and behaviour. The major shift required is that the company needs to accept that they have a sense of responsibility concerning the care of their staff.

The company needs to accept that they have a sense of responsibility concerning the care of their staff

What does this mean at a practical level?

1)     Making space for feelings

As humans, we have internal reactions, feelings and emotions throughout the day. Having a healthy outlet to express this is important for our mental, physical and emotional health. If there are built-in mechanisms within our working day to express these then the individual will feel more supported by their environment. This can also lead to less built-up frustrations and allows the organisation to identify any underlying issues or concerns at an early stage.

2)     Identifying and supporting needs

Difficulties, uncomfortable feelings and emotions often point to an unmet need. This can help the organisation work with the individual to identify any needs that the organisation might be able to support. Of course, sometimes these needs might be something the individual would need to pursue at a personal level, like psychotherapy. However there might be a need for more training, coaching or peer support, which the company might be willing to provide.

3)     Importance of taking breaks

Many scientific studies have shown that taking regular breaks from work activity builds resilience and improves performance. This could take the form of a 10-minute break with no screen time, a longer walk outdoors or a short break to connect with your colleagues. However in order to take a proper break any conversations should avoid work-based topics. The company needs to support and encourage this activity rather than see it as a time-wasting exercise.

Of course, if there is a feeling that certain individuals are abusing this principle then an individual conversation with the person is a wiser way to deal with this instead of penalising the whole workforce by discouraging breaks.

4)     Timely response to concerns and needs

Staff need to feel that their concerns are addressed in a timely manner. Of course there will be instances when this does not occur, but these should be exceptions rather than the norm.

5)     Peer support

A peer-based support structure should be available. It is far easier for colleagues to spot a staff member who is in danger of burnout. Furthermore, employees are more likely to be more open about their difficulties and struggles to their peers rather than their bosses. For this to have the best chance for success, the spaces for discourse first need to be established and the regular practice of sharing feelings and emotions and needs have to already be in place.

Employees are more likely to be more open about their difficulties and struggles to their peers rather than their bosses

6)     Recognition and positive reinforcement

Healthy recognition and positive reinforcement need to be part of the organisational structure. This can take many forms rather than simply being a financial reward. Sometimes offering a staff member a day off or an alternative choice can empower them to select a reward based on their personal need.

In summary, it is evident that these supportive organisational initiatives can enhance the development of the individual capacities, thus resulting in better health, less burnout and lower absenteeism. This can also build better working relationships and lead to greater understanding, support and collaboration amongst individuals.

In order for organisational initiatives to succeed employees need to feel the changes are credible and should be involved in the decision-making process as well as implementation of these changes.

This aligns to our values as Pulzz supports healthier and more supportive work environments and more human connection between individuals both at work and in our personal lives.

The Pulzz programme teaches business leaders to embody the core values of mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence. To learn more, get in touch with us at imraan@pulzz.be or olivier@pulzz.be or go to www.pulzz.be