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What it takes for a living, breathing, feeling human beings to work in an environment in which we are constantly in contact through digital communication is exhausting.
So, I must admit I had no idea about the demands of working in the digital marketplace. I had never actually conceptualised how it must feel to always be “switched on” … and the thoughts gave rise to a new way of thinking about the modern world. What it takes for a living, breathing, feeling human being to work in an environment in which we are constantly in contact through digital communication… basically, exhausting.
Burnout in the Digital Marketplace
A simple truth about us human beings is that the body (and mind) needs balance – between stimulation and work, and rest and recovery. So, to know how to work with burnout, we must first be able to identify IT. The easiest way to think about burnout is with the analogy of a fire. When we have used all the resources we have at hand to build and sustain a fire, when we have emptied or used all the wood or kindling, or oxygen, it literally burns out - much like our own selves – when we have used up all our own physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual resources, when we are completely emptied and unable to give even a little more, we are burnt out.
The World Health has defined occupational burnout as the state in which an individual experiences exhaustion, lack of motivation and the ability to cope with workplace demands, and as a result reduced effectiveness within the workplace.
5 stages of burnout
As published by Psychology Today, five signs of burnout in the workplace have been identified as:
- Feeling unable to cope with the stressful (and often highly specific) demands of the workplace;
- Feeling exhausted, drained and depleted, especially at work and this may also bleed into every other aspect of life so that even rest does not sustain you;
- Feeling as if there is no pleasure or fulfilment in work;
- Negative feelings about work, about your role and your future;
- Not feeling that you in particular are able accomplish the day-to-day demands of your role.
It’s important to clarify that we all have days like this, even weeks or longer periods. And that does not mean burnout. When it becomes a pattern and/or a regular way of being, then we have to take note! Most importantly, perhaps, when workplace stress is not managed, it may become an enduring condition. And this is what we refer to as burnout.
Are you suffering from Burnout Syndrome?
It seems that those individuals in the digital marketing arena may be particularly prone to the BURNOUT syndrome. It is a demanding 24/7 enterprise that requires hyperfocus and commitment and constant attention. As Halford noted in an article published on Convince and Convert, “Marketers have a lot tugging at their attention, especially social media marketers. You’re constantly having to check Twitter feeds, respond to comments, monitor customer engagement, and juggle a lot of projects at once because you often don’t have a huge budget for resources.”
But the truth is we are finite, susceptible, and organic human beings and our bodies and brains can only give so much before they need to be refuelled.
In Halford’s words: “Being “always on” is both a faulty goal and a myth. Without reset, recharge, and the erasure of stressor hormones in your brain, eventually the thing that drives your genius will just lay down—right there in the middle of the room—and no one is going to wake it up until it gets the downtime it needs.”
The impact of burnout
The fallout can be awful: high levels of stress and overwork can negatively impact on creativity and productivity, as well as make you impossible to work with and generally regarded as a poor team player. The impact on physical health can be huge, leading to stress-related ailments, lowered immunity, illness and low mood. In fact, some individuals may start to display symptoms of hopelessness, irritability, and impatience as well as impaired critical thinking skills, attention, and even memory.
Who is responsible to prevent burnout?
Is it the individuals’ responsibility to handle the possibility of BURNOUT, or the workplace? In reality, probably a bit of both. As an individual it is important to know your own needs and performance abilities. To know when you are reaching the critical stage and how to implement the self-care strategies that can prevent exhaustion and assist you to cope with the demands of your job.
And if you are a boss or a team leader, it is important to critically assess and monitor the demands your work environment is placing on your team and your employee, and to find and implement creative and novel ways to make the necessary changes.
For just as much as the brain is vital to the individual who is tasked with the challenges of the digital marketing world, a company or a team is only as strong as its employees and they are the ones who meet the needs of the customers! So, there are many good ideas out there to assist you to deal with burnout.
Two articles with some great examples are:
- How to Avoid Burnout & Survive Long Term in Digital Marketing by David Trounce
Burn Out or Burn Bright? 3 Essential Tips for Digital Marketers by Brooke Furry
3 tips to prevent burnout
As previously mentioned it comes down to balance – finding the pathway between coping and resting, working, and playing. For me, the key really is in the word “self-care”.
We need to be aware of our own inner barometer, check in with our body and mind to ensure that we are keeping a balance between work pace, work pressure and overwhelming stress.
We all need a small measure of pressure to motivate us, get the adrenalin flowing and keep us alert, but too much can literally drain us of all creativity! My most vital components of a self-care package are the following:
Yes, we all know how to breathe, but we do not often breathe deeply. This deep breathing provides much needed oxygen for the brain. It goes beyond the breathing needed to sustain life. It allows us to regain control of the most important parts of our brain that control problem solving and clear thinking. As we reduce our stress response, and increase control, we certainly make better choices in the moment as to how to manage workplace stress. It is important to clarify that deep breathing is not a few quick breaths. It is in fact a mindful practice that we engage in that has a positive impact on our body and mind. Mindful breathing reduces the stress and anxiety of everyday living and working, so that we can be more focused, clear, grounded and appropriate and not clouded by anger and frustration.
A simple way to learn deep breathing is the 4-square method.
- In a quiet, calm space, breathe in deeply through the nose for the count of 4.
- Hold your breath for the count of 4.
- Breathe out slowly through the mouth for a count of 4 (getting the picture?)
- And, finally, hold for a count of 4.
- Repeat at least 5 times
Most important of all is that deep, mindful breathing is something that needs to be practised.
If we practise and develop this strategy as a habit, when the times of stress and strife arrive and we actually need to de-stress and rest, our body and brain knows the pattern and we easily slip into the process of deep breathing to oxygenate the brain and support the nervous system before it enters a fight-or-flight stress response. It’s worth practising every day in order to become an exercise that can enhance all aspects of life, mental and physical.
Support systems are vital in times of stress and excessive demands on our physical and emotional well-being. So, it helps to chat to others whom we may work with, in groups or teams as well as people we have in close relationships, such as friends and family. Our spiritual connection or religious communities may also assist us. Being connected helps to remind us that we are fully alive. And by connection, I mean true human interaction – not of the digital variety.
Social support is an integral factor in helping to alleviate mental and emotional stress and distress.
Research has consistently shown the benefits and value of real, connected, empathic social support in regulating an individual’s vulnerability to a variety of stressful situations. So having someone with whom we can connect, who can listen and share, enables us as individuals to cope better with a range of job stressors, economic demands, marital difficulties, serious illness and other traumatic events, as well as the everyday difficulties in living.
This is a chaotic world in which we live and work. The demands of everyday life seem huge and sometimes insurmountable and tragic. But if we remind ourselves of our humanity, of our feelings, thoughts, and behaviours, of the moments of joy and surprise and love and awe, even amidst all the bad news and stress, we can survive and experience life fully. In fact, research has pointed to compassion as an antidote to anxiety and stress.
If we can feel compassion for others, we can practise the same technique for ourselves - and if we can treat ourselves with compassion, we can cope so much better!
Medical research indicates compassion promotes better nervous system functioning, and improved thinking and decision-making so that we can be more open-minded and thoughtful. Best of all, happier – compassion for self and others stimulates the pleasure or reward locus of the brain, and this encourages the release of hormones that sustain happiness.
As you can see, these three components are also interlinked. Most important of all, it’s vital to monitor ourselves, and when we feel that our flame is burning low, or when the demands become just too great, we know what we need to do to restore our balance!
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Shelley Roe-Berning is a counselling psychologist, registered with the Health Professions Council of SA. She works with children, teens, adults, and families who are experiencing all manner of difficulties in living.She is based at Centapaeds in Edenvale. As a psychologist and also PhD student at Wits University, in general, her flame burns bright!