Leaders are often put on a pedestal — truth is you’re ‘just as susceptible’ to ill health as anyone else
Burnout is a gradual process, a mental health advocate told HRD.
“It doesn’t happen overnight, but it can creep up on you,” said Brendan O’Keefe, founder of I am Taking a Mental Health Day.
Continual exposure to stressful situations such as working long hours, constant travel, and unrealistic deadlines, will eat at you eventually.
What’s more, we’re all “witnessing” a crisis unfold — this is all compounded by the added worry of taking care of loved ones during a difficult time.
“Being an overachiever is overrated, it’s counterproductive,” he said, adding that everyone, including leaders, should be flexible and learn to slow down.
“Keep some balance otherwise you will see the signs of burnout very quickly,” he said.
Read more: Why COVID-19 is aggravating leadership burnout
Six signs of burnout you should look out for include:
- Feeling physically and emotionally depleted
- Frequent sense of isolation from family members, as well as co-workers
- Turning to alcohol, drugs, or food as a way to numb your emotional pain
- Heightened irritability and feeling extra overwhelmed by the “usual stressors”
- Falling sick more often as your immune system is down
- Experiencing panic attacks
“Leaders are often put on a pedestal and may seem to be superhuman because of their achievements, role, skills and responsibilities,” he said. “The truth is a leader is just as susceptible as anyone to mental ill-health, burnout and stress.
“In fact, the nature of their work, along with self-pressure to achieve can put them in a high-risk category for a mental illness or crisis.”
Read more: Why leaders should take a 'mental health day'
Lead by example
O’Keefe suggested that instead of “pushing through”, leaders should take the opportunity to set an example by acknowledging their vulnerability and prioritising self-care.
He believes that burnout can be avoided by incorporating simple self-care strategies into our lives.
“Sleep well, get a variety of nutritious foods, meditate, walk, swim, get a massage each week,” he said. “Most of all, reach out and ask for help.”
Read more: Mental wellness: why C-suite should lead the discussion
Before you know it, your actions will help build a supportive culture around mental health, put people at ease about their own experiences, and possibly raise awareness of the mental health programs at your organisation.
As companies raise their investment and focus on mental wellness programs amid a prolonged pandemic, stepping up your self-care may do more for employees and ensure effective, successful strategies than expanding the breadth of your current programs.
To help leaders get in the habit of practising self care, O’Keefe shared some tips. He understands that leaders are constantly busy, so his first advice is this: be creative with your time.
Read more: Mental health: How to lead by example
- Get connected
Look at ways to find connections to nature and people who energise you. Revisit your spirituality if you haven't for some time and learn how to keep your body well maintained and nurtured with good nutrition and sleep.
“Long-term care starts with awareness,” he said. “Listen more to others and to your body.”
- Seek out a support network
If you don't already have a good support network, then look for one. Seek out people who are not just of similar positions with you, but diversify your network to include the young, recent graduates, and the unemployed. Don't forget to consider retirees who had held similar leadership positions.
- Practise gratefulness
Gratitude journaling and gifting others is a great way to energise your soul and keep things in perspective.
- Make time to give back
Find time weekly or so to engage in acts of service to others or your community. Find ways to give back through workplace giving programs — this can also rally teams together in times of need.
“A lot of people are hurting in these times, so see what you and your organisation can do to contribute to better outcomes for employees, customers, the community as well as shareholders,” he said. “Be kind.”