When the Flame Starts to Flicker

Kim Lewis recently invited me to post a piece on burnout on her excellent website for speech-language pathologists, Activitytailor.com. I’m sharing it with you now. No matter what your working day looks like, this information can help you make it brighter.

 At every ASHA (American Speech-Language Hearing Association) convention I’ve attended, and I’ve been to a lot, I love seeing my fellow helping professionals. Even without our lanyards, we’re easy to spot on the street, don’t you think? We have good haircuts, good hygiene, and clothing that includes something funky (but not too funky) to express our individuality.

We exude an exhilarating sense of possibility, along with an eagerness to learn something new that will have a positive impact on our patients, clients or students. We are energized! Yes, we are on fire!

And boy, do we need that energy when we return to the job. Why? Because our day-to-day routines ask a lot of us. And because, as the literature bears, people in the helping professions are at high risk for burnout.

But, friends, we cannot afford burnout, either personally or professionally. The toll on our mental and physical health, not to mention our finances, is too high.

What to do? Read on and learn to recognize some of the signs of burnout and ways to prevent it from snuffing out your joy.

Signs of Job Burnout

Are you experiencing any of the following on a regular basis?

  • Depleted energy and motivation for work
  • A sense of cynicism or futility on the job
  • Irritability with co-workers and those we are supposed to be helping
  • Changes in eating and sleep patterns
  • Feelings of not being seen or appreciated for what we do.

Is it me or is it hot in here? External and Internal Causes of Job Burnout

Burnout can be rooted in environmental factors or in personal traits, or in a mix of the two.

Workplace triggers:

  • Unrealistic workloads
  • Monotonous OR extremely challenging work
  • Dysfunctional work environments
  • Lack of recognition

Personal characteristics that put us at high risk for burnout:

  • Perfectionism
  • Pessimism
  • A high need for control
  • Difficulty delegating

If you recognize any of these signs, take the possibility of burnout seriously. And act.

Preventing Job Burnout

  • Take care of your health. Now is the time to treat yourself with TLC. Get some exercise and fresh air. Eat well. Go to bed at a decent hour. Just committing to these three habits will contribute immensely to your resilience and energy to effectively deal with the challenges facing you.
  • Reach out. Seek emotional and tangible support from your colleagues. Adapting a template from a coworker for daily, weekly, and discharge reports at a rehab hospital where I worked increased my paperwork organization and cut back on my stress immeasurably.
  • Discuss your work concerns with your supervisor. See what can be addressed in the way of hours and caseload.
  • Incorporate mini-breaks throughout your day. Consider being still and listening to your breath for six complete cycles of inhalation and exhalation. Take a short walk.

Ultimately, I think, the seeds of burnout can be traced to exhaustion, disillusionment, and a perceived loss of personal power. Reclaiming our power and finding our voice to advocate for ourselves can re-ignite our enthusiasm for the work we do.

Final Thoughts

Creativity. Intellectual stimulation. Independence. Helping others. Making a real difference in the world. These are the values that drew me to the field of speech-language pathology over 20 years ago, and more recently, into the arena of personal development coaching. What drew you to your profession? What do you love about this work?

Numbness, frustration, and burnout are ways our inner voice lets us know that we are violating values that are important to us. What are the core values that are integral to your sense of self? In what way is your work an outlet for the expression of your values?

As with any meaningful relationship, we’ll have our hard days and our easy ones in the workplace. A strong foundation, based on self-awareness and intentionality, supports us through the inevitable challenges we will face.

When we make choices aligned with who we are and what we value, we exercise our power and embrace our worth, the ultimate antidote to burnout. Work that honors those values that are important to us supports us to live a life of integrity. And to keep the flame alive.

Online resources to learn more about burnout: