Tips & Tricks: Take a burnout self-check

My previous tip on dealing with stress as an expat struck a lot of nerves (pun intended?) and so, even though I typically alternate the kinds of tips I provide, this week is another quick tip related to staying sane as an expat and making sure you don’t burnout.

Today’s tip: Give yourself a “burnout self-checkup”

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Stress and Burnout

One of the many problems with stress is how perniciously it creeps up on us and can lead to burnout before we’ve even realized it’s happened. It’s important, then, to be self-aware enough to reflect on how you’re doing so that you can address problems before they become major. I’m thus grateful I stumbled across a two-minute burnout self-checkup tool and I want to share it with you. This tool was made by Chris Bailey and appears in Harvard Business Review (HBR). Go ahead and read the entire article over at HBR, but here’s a quick synopsis in case you’re unable to access the site or want the TLDR.

Burnout happens due to chronic stress—which I wrote about extensively in the tip about stress and rest and so won’t repeat myself here—but Bailey identifies six areas in your work which can create stress. Bailey writes:

Workload. How sustainable the amount of work on our plate is. The more our workload eclipses our capacity, the more likely we are to reach the point of burnout.

Values. What lets us connect with our work on a deeper level. This may sound wishy-washy, but the more our work aligns with what we value, the more meaningful it feels and engaged we become. Both help us avoid burnout.

Reward. The level of reward we get from our job — including financial rewards (salary, bonuses, stock options, etc.) and social rewards (whether we’re recognized for the contributions we make). Insufficient reward can make us feel ineffective, one of the core attributes of burnout.

Control. The autonomy we have over when, where, and how we do our work. The less control we have, the more likely we are to burn out.

Fairness. The feeling that we’re treated equitably at work relative to our colleagues. Fairness is an important ingredient that promotes engagement and keeps cynicism at bay.

Community. Professional relationships contribute enormously to minimizing burnout and boosting engagement. The weaker our relationships and the more conflict we experience, the more likely we are to burn out.

Chris Bailey, A Two Minute Burnout Checkup, Harvard Business Review

For people who live monoculturaly, work is often the biggest source of stress and so the above list helps capture aspects of work-related stress. For us expats, though, work stress is just one of the many stressors we face; sometimes the biggest stresses aren’t at work at all, so you’ll need to add to Bailey’s list above. What other categories of stresses are you facing? Food, language, relationships, marriage, parenting, transportation, health, distance from family? Etc.

Take a Burnout Checkup

There’s a pretty graphic over at HBR that can help you, but the essence of the “Burnout Checkup” is to rate yourself 1-10 in each of the above 6 categories (plus the categories I told you to add). Add up your score to see your overall stress, but also consider the level in each category itself. If your score is low (meaning you’re not stressed in that area), then you’re doing something well and should consider what it is so you can learn from it. If a category’s stress is quite high, then consider what steps you can take—in addition to rhythms of rest—to improve that dimension of your life.

So there you go! A simple way to give yourself a quick self checkup to see how your mental state is. If you’re currently experience high levels of stress or are heading towards burnout, definitely read my tip on establishing rhythms of rest and take the steps you need to stay sane and protect your health. As the Paradox of Safety exemplifies, by the time that you know you need a mental break or your stress is too high, it’s already too late to take precautionary measures, so take preventative steps now!

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