Proactively mitigating burnout to enhance productivity

Kuan Cheah
By Kuan Cheah | 21 February 2020
Kuan Cheah

Kuan Cheah is PHD Finance Director

“Work hard.” You’ve probably heard this phrase many times in your life. I certainly have. Growing up in Malaysia, I was constantly reminded to work hard. Work hard, and you will be guaranteed a better future, better school results, better job prospects… I knew the drill. I was going to work hard to get the best out of life.

When I started my first job, I was prepared to work hard. To work hard meant putting in long hours, didn’t it? I was prepared to work until the early hours of the morning, and to return to work a few hours later, ready to start again. What I wasn’t prepared for was a slow drain of my energy, both physically and mentally. As the job became more demanding, the stakes were higher. It dawned upon me that I was quickly reaching the bottom of the barrel. Working hard was costing me my physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

“Burnout”. It’s a word you may have heard before. For those who haven’t - burnout is categorised by the World Health Organization as “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job and reduced professional efficacy”. I have experienced burnout. However, it was only through the support of my colleagues that I realised that I was putting unnecessary pressure on myself and, as a father of two young children, this was not a healthy or sustainable way to live.

The agency I work for, PHD, has a strong focus on self-leadership and empowered me to take control and lead change in the way that I was working. This involved implementing a few strategies, like setting a curfew and sticking by it, taking occasional breaks from technology and so on. Another part of the strong culture that exists at PHD focuses on building relationships, and I believe that by building rapport with my team and colleagues, we create a great support network for ourselves. With strong working relationships, we gain insight into the challenges we face in all aspects of our lives, and we gain an understanding on how we can work smarter.

The idea of working smarter, not harder, has enabled me to work more proactively, and it has given me a different perspective on how I view work. I have become better equipped at managing stress and my workload. As someone in a senior position, I realised that my roles and responsibilities went beyond just churning out more work, and I needed to be proactive and strategic in my actions, and to lead change for my team.

If you or someone you know is struggling to manage your work-life balance, here are some tips I have learned from my own experience:

1. Set your own boundaries - whether this be not answering emails/phone calls after work hours, sticking by a curfew and not staying back late every day.

2. Schedule in your own relaxation time - your own time is just as important as any work meeting.

3. Actively make time to spend with family and reach out to people you feel comfortable with (friends, family, colleagues).

4. Reflect on and celebrate your achievements; Rome wasn’t built in a day, and success, regardless of its magnitude, is worth celebrating. 

Hopefully, these steps will help you ensure you allocate enough time to maintain your mental wellbeing amidst a busy work schedule and mitigate “burnout”, thereby optimizing your productivity and allowing you to actually “work hard”.

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