Treasury Today Country Profiles in association with Citi

Don’t let burnout end your career

Burnout match in the middle of untouched matches

With markets in turmoil the need to put in the hours is unquestioned. But what is too much? Burnout is a genuine symptom of extreme workplace stress. Learn to recognise the symptoms and how they can be alleviated.

With so much going on in the financial world today, particularly for treasurers impacted by the fallout from Brexit (which given the global reach of the markets might include everyone), the need to put in the hours can rise to uncomfortable levels. Sometimes the commitment demanded by a professional role such as treasurer can become too much. This can lead to unsustainably high stress levels and ultimately burnout.

“Even the best jobs can lead to burnout,” says Dr Travis Bradberry, President at training and coaching services provider, TalentSmart and co-author of the work performance guide, ‘Emotional Intelligence 2.0’. Writing on his blog, Bradberry explains: “The harder you work and the more motivated you are to succeed, the easier it is to get in over your head.”

Always on

Despite the fact that treasurers can call upon new technologies to streamline and automate many processes, allowing them to focus on the core decisions, the prevalence of mobile devices in working life has seen many employees, particularly senior staff, in an almost perpetual state of ‘on call’. This effect will trickle down to ambitious junior staff, keen to make an impression and demonstrate their commitment by similarly always being available.

The inability to let go is increasing the prevalence of burnout. This is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged workplace stress. It leads to a lack of enthusiasm and motivation, and feelings of ineffectiveness. Psychologists also report manifestation as deep-seated frustration or cynicism. All of this can lead to reduced professional efficacy.

But according to Psychology Today burnout is not simply a result of too many hours in the office. Its experts highlight the difference between the related illnesses of burnout and depression but say burnout “tends to be a function of chronic work stress and disengagement, while depression can be linked to work or non-work”.

Accordingly, “the cynicism, depression, and lethargy of burnout can occur when you’re not in control of how you carry out your job, when you’re working toward goals that don't resonate with you, and when you lack social support,” it advises. “If you don't tailor your responsibilities to match your true calling, or at least take a break once in a while, you could face a mountain of mental and physical health problems.”

Research from the American Psychological Association and the National Opinion Research Centre at the University of Chicago recently reported some worrying trends that fly in the face of this advice. It showed that 48% of Americans experienced increased stress over the past five years, and that 31% of employed adults have difficulty managing their work and family responsibilities. Further, 53% agree that their work leaves them “overtired and overwhelmed”. A Society for Human Resource Management poll also indicated that burnout was one of the top reasons that people gave for leaving their current job.

Further research by Turkish academics, Omer Aydemir and Ilkin Icelli, published in their 2013 paper, ‘Burnout for experts: prevention in the context of living and working’, indicates that women are 1.6 times more likely to report burnout than men.

Recognise the symptoms

“Burnout often results from a misalignment of input and output; you get burnt out when you feel like you’re putting more into your work than you’re getting out of it,” comments Bradberry. “Sometimes this happens when a job isn’t rewarding, but more often than not it’s because you aren’t taking care of yourself.”

Before treatment and even prevention of burnout can take place, he says individuals need to recognise the warning signs. These may appear in any combination. He lists these, in no particular order, as follows:

  • Health problems.

  • Cognitive difficulties.

  • Difficulty with work and personal relationships.

  • Taking your work home with you.

  • Fatigue.

  • Negativity.

  • Decreased job satisfaction.

  • Losing your motivation.

  • Performance issues.

  • Poor self-care.

Fighting Burnout

The key to defeating burnout, says Bradberry, lies in finding a work/life balance. He suggests the following measures:

Disconnect

Disconnecting is the most important burnout strategy because if you can’t find time to remove yourself electronically from your work, then you’ve never really left work. If taking the entire evening or weekend off from handling work e-mails and calls isn’t realistic, try designating specific times to check in on emails and respond to voicemails.

Pay attention to your body signals

Aches and pains are sometimes an accumulation of stress and anxiety. Learn to pay attention to your body’s signals. Your body is always talking, but you have to listen.

Schedule relaxation

Scheduling relaxing activities makes certain they happen as well as giving you something to look forward to.

Stay away from sedatives

Whether it’s alcohol or pills, Bradberry says this can greatly disrupt the brain’s natural sleep process. Anything that interferes with the natural sleep process has dire consequences for the quality of your sleep, and you need adequate, quality sleep to avoid burnout.

Get organised

Often it is not too much work that is the problem but disorganisation. Take the time to get organised, the load feels much more manageable.

Take regular breaks during the workday

Physiologically, we work best in spurts of an hour to an hour and a half, followed by 15-minute breaks. If you wait until you feel tired to take a break, it’s too late. Keeping to a schedule ensures that you work when you’re the most productive and that you rest during times that would otherwise be unproductive.

Lean on your support system. Spending time with people who care about you helps you to remove yourself from the stresses of work and reminds you to live a little and have fun.

Work or health?

Having tried these methods to ease the stress, if it is found that they are not working, Bradberry urges individuals to accept perhaps that the problem might be the job itself. “In that case, you'll have to decide what's more important: your work or your health.”

Treasury Today is keen to discover workplace issues such as work/life balance and is keen to hear the views of all stakeholders. The Women in Treasury Global Study 2016, is now live and seeking your views. The full report will be presented in London on 15th September 2016.