This article describes measures to absorb exhaustion, build performance and prevent slipping into burnout. Includes a book tip for brain-friendly work.
Contrary to hip trend lists, AI, blockchain & Co. are not the topics that urgently move medium-sized businesses. They are existential issues like dealing with burnout and massive employee exhaustion, according to the founder of this platform Benjamin Talin.
This article describes measures to absorb exhaustion, build performance and prevent slipping into burnout. Finally, there is a book tip for brain-friendly work.
When do we speak of burnout?
In 2019, the WHO has classified burnout as a syndrome in the occupational context in the new edition of the international diagnostic code ICD-11. Burnout is a consequence of chronic stress at work that has not been successfully dealt with. The diagnosis is based on the three cornerstones
- Feeling of being burned out.
- Inner distance from work, often associated with a negative attitude towards it.
- Lower professional performance.
The massively exhausted person – background and figures
Where does this increase in exhausted and burnt-out people in the working world come from?
According to a long-term analysis by the DAK based on 2.5 million employed insured persons, there was a sad record in 2017 with 250 days of absence per 100 insured persons due to psychological ailments. In 2018, 93 days of absence per 100 insured persons were due to depression (burnout is considered a special form of depression).
Facilitations and changes in the course of the digital transformation are not only an opportunity, but also a burden: constant accessibility, rapid changes in work equipment and work environment, uncertainty about the impact of technological changes, what the future will bring and what role the individual will play in it.
In the maelstrom of new technologies, the human value system comes under pressure. Exhaustion eventually spreads to all levels: physically, mentally, emotionally and, in the worst case, even to the question of the meaning of it all.
Deep exhaustion is an interplay of a lack of (self-)care in combination with values that have come under pressure and dwindling security in an environment that is not conducive.
13 measures against exhaustion and for more performance
Resilience – the ability to absorb all this – is also a multidimensional process. Both the worker and the employer are responsible for it. Building resilience is the responsibility of the individual. Creating the necessary space in the professional context is the responsibility of the company.
Here are 13 simple measures that successfully prevent exhaustion and safeguard performance
Light is elementary for physical and cognitive performance. Modern people spend too much time indoors. Where natural daylight is lacking, the melatonin-serotonin axis is disturbed and the body is unable to produce enough vitamin D.
A simple measure is therefore to spend regular time outdoors. A company can promote this by organizing breaks accordingly. In addition, circadian lights adapt to people’s biological daily rhythms and provide the necessary stimulus.
For the home, there are daylight alarm clocks that use light to wake the pineal gland instead of ringing. They are particularly recommended for people who have trouble getting going in the morning or suffer from winter blues.
We sit too much. The human body is made for movement. Neuro research could show: when the body is in motion, the brain is wide awake. It is a primary brain function to control movement. So there is not only a brain-body connection, but also a body-brain connection.
Therefore, active-pauses are important.
Through the Pomodoro technique, it is known that the ability to work with focus decreases after about 25 minutes. This is the ideal time for a short movement break: stand up, stretch, walk a few steps is the least. How about a trampoline in the break room to get employees’ exhausted brains moving again? Meanwhile, walkers can also exercise in the office, thanks to desks with integrated treadmills.
Our brain also needs breaks so that it remains permanently efficient. The break every 25-30 minutes is therefore not only suitable for exercise. The ideal combination is drinking, breathing and moving.
My tip: set a timer and drink a sip of water every half hour, take a few deep breaths and leave the workplace for some exercise. It doesn’t matter if you’re at work or in your home office.
Humans are water creatures and are 75-80% water at birth, which unfortunately decreases to 50-60% thereafter. All cells need free fluid to maintain cell pressure and for osmosis, which regulates the exchange of nutrients in and out of the cell. The brain needs to swim because otherwise electro-chemical conductivity, and therefore performance, is not guaranteed.
Drinking still water is one of the basics for a healthy, efficient body. Carbonated water is not recommended because it increases latent hyperacidity and the carbonic acid is not broken down but has to be exhaled. Quite a few people are dehydrated despite drinking because their body uses up the water to neutralize the acid load caused by stress.
Note: Stress is the strongest acid generator and, according to the WHO, the biggest disease-causing factor in the 21st century. It is recommended to drink 30-40 ml of still water per kg of body weight. In summer and with corresponding physical work correspondingly more.
A brain-friendly diet contains above all the right fats and B-group vitamins for cognitive performance and stress reduction. DHA and EPA are omega-3 fatty acids. They are produced mainly in the liver and account for 97% of the fatty acids found in the brain. B vitamins, especially B6, are needed for their production.
In general, our diet contains too much omega 6 (e.g. sunflower oil, safflower oil, corn oil) and too little omega 3 (mackerel, sardine, certain algae). The ratio should be 1 to 5, but for most is 1:20 or worse. Therefore, supplementing with high quality natural source supplements is recommended.
Nature is good for stress. This is not a truism, but has been proven by studies. A walk in the green lowers blood pressure and reduces the stress hormone cortisol. A good reason for a green island where employees can relieve stress. In fact, just looking out the window at greenery can reduce feelings of stress. Even a nature photo wallpaper activates the parasympathetic nervous system and becomes stress-relieving.
Humans are multisensory beings. Nature sounds and aromas also reduce stress, provide relaxation and strengthen resilience.
Tip Nature sounds: there are so-called chirping boxes, which are activated by a motion detector and play for a few minutes birdsong or ocean sounds.
Aromatherapy tip: the olfactory nerve is the only nerve that provides direct access to the brain. What makes for a good (buying) mood in shopping malls also works in the office. Aromatherapy with high-quality essential oils is being used by more and more companies. Citrus aromas, for example, lift the mood, and tree oils such as stone pine and manuka help with nervous tension and overwork.
The breath is a direct, immediate expression of the inner state of mind. When we are stressed, we breathe superficially and quickly; when we are relaxed, we breathe deeply and slowly. Anyone who takes 20 breaths a minute while sitting in an office chair is in fight mode: the sympathetic nervous system is overexcited. This form of constant stress causes the energy level to constantly decrease, the adrenal glands to wear out, and the person eventually burns out like a constantly over-revving engine.
The stress level can be influenced by the breathing frequency. The goal is 10 breaths per minute and the following exercise is suitable for this:
- Focus on the heart, possibly placing both hands on the heart.
- Then breathe in this rhythm: inhale on 6 seconds, hold for 4 seconds, exhale on 8 seconds. For at least 2 minutes or until tension is released.
Deep conscious breathing into the diaphragm is a great option for people who suffer from “brain fog,” have trouble concentrating, or feel like they are wrapped in absorbent cotton.
As a certified breath therapist, I can recommend Connected Breath for states of exhaustion. My tip for companies: why not bring a breath therapist in for some anti-stress training? Breath offers a variety of starting points, even for people who have little to do with relaxation.
Good sleep is essential for regeneration and cognitive performance. The ability to fall asleep and stay asleep depends on the melatonin-serotonin axis, which is regulated by the pineal gland. It is constructed like an optical lens and reacts to light. During the day, sufficient daylight is important, see above. At night, the bedroom should be completely darkened so that the pineal gland starts producing melatonin.
Tip: All displays with blue LED light stop melatonin synthesis. Therefore, avoid cell phone, PC, TV, etc. at least 1-2 hours before bedtime or use a blue light filter (app).
In the morning, we wake up because serotonin is now released instead of melatonin. Tryptophan-rich foods such as oats, cashews, peanuts, chicken, eggs, hazelnuts help with this. Those who have sleep problems should take L-tryptophan as a supplement. The important thing is the composition and purity.
We remember that the burnout diagnosis includes distance and negative feelings about work. Lived openness and appreciation prevent people from drifting into silent overload. In the worst case, it ends with inner resignation.
- Be generous with (genuine!) praise.
- Provide a point of contact where employees can relieve pressure and ask for support without losing face.
- Train your managers in empathetic leadership.
- Make sure that negativity, gossip and bullying are given no room.
- Part of each individual’s responsibility is thought hygiene: everyone can decide whether the glass is half full or half empty. Confidence is also a matter of training.
According to the Fraunhofer Institute, about 10% of the working day is wasted on tidying up halfway and looking for missing work material. In addition, mental clarity has a hard time in a messy environment or in a cluttered office.
A clear, tidy environment is the basis for orderly thoughts. Anyone who has ever de-cluttered a room and tidied it up properly knows this invigorating feeling.
Therefore: no power to the messie! Neither on the inside nor on the outside.
Here are my tips:
- As a company, you should encourage your employees to keep things tidy. Address messy behavior.
- Think about a cleanup day as a community activity. Trade “idle time” and “dead chatter” in meetings for such an activity.
- Make sure your desk is tidy. The workspace is for work only, put three trays: todo, inbox, and outbox.
- Use sticky notes sparingly! Otherwise, they will do harm instead of good.
- Use a wipeable pin board with pens (urgent, important, can wait = color mark) for daily notes.
- Stow everything else in drawers and cabinets according to a logical system. Create a filing system for this with uniform labels.
- Collect ideas in a text document, but not on loose slips of paper.
- Food doesn’t belong on the desk or in the office. This is just a place to work.
- Very important: Clean up emotionally, too! Stop getting angry about things that cannot be changed. Train your emotional competence.
If you brood constantly, you waste valuable energy. Not being able to switch off and even a pathological compulsion to brood leads to a drop in performance, wrong decisions, sleep problems and can lead to burnout.
Mind (software) and brain (hardware) need regular idle time for the necessary regeneration. No machine can work permanently at full speed without signs of wear and tear. It is similar with the brain. In addition, we can only tap into creativity when our brain wave patterns (alpha) are relaxed. In other words, the ability to solve problems is limited when we are constantly brooding.
It is therefore necessary to “empty” the brain on a regular basis. The easiest way to do this is with meditation. Some head people think little of it – until they get involved. A short meditation is a restart for fresh thinking. For an easier start I have created the micromeditation. In only 4 minutes it is possible to clear your head.
Switching off in the evening is important to avoid taking stressful thoughts with you into your sleep. These disturb the night’s rest and create in some people the perception of having spent the night only on the threshold of falling asleep. They are correspondingly unrested in the morning.
Contributing to mental exhaustion is the unfortunate myth of multitasking. Our brains are not designed for multitasking. In a study conducted by King’s College in London in 2005, the performance of test subjects was examined on the basis of the flood of e-mails.
One group had to answer incoming e-mails, while the control group was allowed to smoke marijuana. Afterwards, both groups had to solve moderately difficult tasks. The marijuana smokers solved the tasks more successfully than the mail handlers. The conclusion: permanent mail contact paralyzes the mind more than a drug. The study showed that many even develop an email addiction, they lose the ability to distinguish between relevant and unimportant messages.
Tip: Check mails at set times and focus on them. Otherwise, ensure undisturbed work with focus on just one thing.
12. Bliss Box
Many companies are familiar with the grievance box. The opposite of this is the Bliss Box. It can also be located virtually in digital space. Positive, uplifting insights, experiences and good results are collected and published there.
Praise and positive feedback belongs in here and can be viewed by anyone who needs inspiration, a shot of motivation or simply encouragement for a bad day. The Blissbox can do more for the working atmosphere than a grief box, because it directs the focus to positive news.
Purpose is like the 13th fairy in a fairy tale: not invited for convenience, but you can’t do without it. Those who do not find a purpose in their actions are at greater risk of burnout. Nothing exhausts more than a meaningless activity or a meaningless life. Without a frame of reference for one’s existence, it is difficult to muster energy for daily activities. Purpose and values are important pillars for a vital, powerful life. This also includes giving people responsibility and trust.
What does “purpose” mean to a team?
Google has evaluated 250 factors of teamwork. In a project called Aristotle that lasted more than two years, 180 teams were screened to find out what makes them truly effective. The results were clear: the No. 1 factor is psychological safety, another term for trust.
What does “purpose” mean for the individual?
Every person has the responsibility to find the place where his actions have purpose. He must find the purpose himself; entrepreneurship can provide him with the right framework for it. An unloved job only of the money leads on the road into the Burnout.
Conclusion on burnout prevention
People and companies work together to ensure the healthy performance of employees.
Companies need knowledge about salutogenesis (the study of health) and should be aware of the needs of their employees. This includes the role model function of managers. Creative solutions to support performance do not always have to be expensive.
People need values, purpose and self-care. This includes knowing their own needs and taking personal responsibility for their health.
In tandem, you will achieve more.