You’re controlling a stovetop and every burner is on high. Your goal is to bring each pot sitting on each burner to a boil, but even though a significant amount of time has passed, nothing is even close to boiling.
With stress, you can control your ability to bring your water to a boil or reduce to a simmer because you can manage and work through it. With burnout, you find yourself saying, “something has to give.”
Women often feel the effects of burnout at a higher rate than men. Women tend to feel more invisible or inferior in the workplace—and working to make your presence known every day can contribute to burnout.
As women, we feel the constant pressure to demonstrate our ability to conquer it all, which can be suffocating as we are at the height of “hustle culture.” Unfortunately, due to the impact of COVID-19 there are a heightened series of factors that contribute to successful women reaching the point of burnout. It’s important to know its causes, because recognizing the signs of burnout and avoiding it can quite literally save your life.
A way to check-in with yourself is to take a pause and ask a series of reflective questions: Am I feeling unmotivated? Am I questioning myself? Am I comparing myself to others? It can be difficult to admit you’re overwhelmed, especially because we often pride ourselves in denouncing the age-old stereotype that women can’t have it all and wanting to succeed like our male counterparts. While it can be challenging at times, no one is perfect; there is strength in knowing yourself and making your mental wellbeing your priority.
You also want to ask yourself questions that will help pivot your thinking in healthy ways: What can I remove from my plate? What can I have open communication with my manager about? How can I ask for help? This will help you lower one of your burners and manage your responsibilities.
One of the easiest ways to avoid burnout is to know when to ask for help. Expressing you’re at bandwidth can be difficult. You want to be superwoman but at some point, saying yes to everything takes a toll on your performance, and more importantly, your mental health. It’s important to set boundaries. Allow yourself to feel good about the decision if you decline a request.
Asking for help isn’t about taking something off your plate and putting it onto someone else’s. Rather, it’s about recognizing that through collaboration, someone else’s skills can help lighten your burden and allow you to work more efficiently. If you have five items on your plate and two to be delegated, ask for help by seeking out an extra set of eyes and acknowledging that person’s unique skills. Everyone appreciates a compliment and every carefully crafted team is composed of a variety of skill sets. By collaborating and seeking out specific assistance from another person, you allow that team member to come to you in return when they are in need of stress relief.
By setting boundaries and vocalizing when you need help, you feel more empowered and more in control. Knowing how and when to ask for help is a power move, not a sign of weakness.
If you are struggling to ask for help, take advantage of your internal resources. Four years ago, my company created a Women’s Leadership Initiative. Since then, it has spurred policy changes, doubled recruitment of women in previously male-dominated roles and sparked the creation of a new parental leave policy. The initiative has also produced a sense of community, where women at Power from various departments and levels come together and celebrate the success of women in the business. They’ve created a safe, supportive space where we can come together and share our wins—because one woman’s success is a success for the entire initiative.
Another tactic I use is writing down helpful and positive affirmations and placing them in spaces where I might need them the most. Work is a great place for something like this, as you typically sit in the same spot everyday. Even if you don’t want to have your positive affirmations visible, you can always keep them tucked away—so when you are in need of a pick-me-up, you have them within your reach.
In the corporate world, we’re all aware of the lack of representation, especially as we move up the ladder. Being the first in your position and the only one in the room that looks like you creates an immense amount of pressure. The unrealistic but common notion “If I cry, they’ll assume every woman is going to do it, so I can’t ever cry at work,” can add to the feeling of burnout. My advice to women who have a laundry list of behaviors they consider unacceptable based on society's standards is to lean into imperfection. It’s impossible to maintain such a high level of composure 24/7. The more flaws that you show initially, the more authentic of an example you are leaving for women who look up to you. So cry—show that vulnerability. You’ll be setting a new path of acceptance for those who will follow in your footsteps.
Prioritize your mental health and be sure to ask for help when you need it. Create healthy habits and foster communication that allows you to feel as though all of your responsibilities are manageable. Burnout is not inevitable.