The Cure to Burnout is Not Self-Care, It’s Autonomy

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With high demands and fast-paced work environments, professionals often find themselves feeling stressed and stretched thin. This leads to burnout, usually manifesting as physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion.

Although many resources are already dedicated to dealing with burnout, most focus on self-care and potential coping mechanisms. While their ideas can be valuable, it’s time to consider a different solution to a worldwide problem.

This article will explain why autonomy is the best cure for burnout.

 

Prevalence of Burnout in the Workplace

Labeled as an occupational phenomenon by the World Health Organization, burnout is the exhaustion caused by chronic workplace stress that negatively impacts a person’s physical and mental health.1

Based on a recent study by McKinsey Health Institute, one in four employees experiences burnout symptoms.2 In another survey by Deloitte, 77 percent of respondents stated that they’ve experienced burnout in their current roles.3

These numbers indicate that burnout is an issue that is affecting a significant portion of the American workforce. It highlights the urgent need for professionals, both on the operational and executive levels, to find a solution to prevent its adverse effects.

 

The Limitations of Self-Care

Both employers and employees wonder how burnout is treated. Many articles and discussions surrounding burnout often point to self-care as the primary solution. While exercise, meditation, a healthy diet, and hobbies can lower stress and provide temporary relief, these don’t address the root causes of burnout. Self-care alone is not enough to cure this occupational phenomenon.

When companies and leaders continue to advocate for self-care as a solution, they indirectly place the entire responsibility of coping with burnout on the employees. It becomes a fundamental problem when people rely on work burnout therapy as it fails to acknowledge the systemic factors within organizations that contribute to employee stress and exhaustion.

Burnout usually results from excessive workloads, lack of work-life balance, poor management practices, and a lack of control over one’s work environment. Instead of finding a solution, professionals end up spending their energy on coping with burnout rather than preventing it.

Read More: Why Company Culture Is a Top Consideration When Choosing Where to Work

 

Faults of Quiet Quitting as a Solution

Another way of coping with stress and fatigue is the new trend of “quiet quitting.” This refers to employees limiting themselves and only meeting the bare minimum requirement of their roles. The idea is to reduce stress by consciously confining one’s time and energy toward work. By exerting the least amount of effort to finish tasks, this solution becomes an act of self-preservation.

Although quiet quitting has gained much traction as a perfect way to set boundaries, it ultimately fails to solve the actual problem of burning out. It simply becomes a band-aid solution that forces professionals to reduce their stressors. Moreover, it can cause even more issues related to an employee’s career trajectory. Some employers may view employees exhibiting this behavior as unengaged or unmotivated. This may lead to employees receiving fewer advancement opportunities or delayed promotions.

Read More: 5 Things Every Working Gen Z Needs to Know

 

The Best Solution to Burnout: Autonomy

The key to truly preventing and overcoming burnout lies in fostering a work environment that prioritizes autonomy. Autonomy in the workplace refers to employees’ degree of control and decision-making power over their work tasks, schedules, and processes.

When employees are granted appropriate levels of autonomy, they experience a greater sense of ownership, trust, and agency within their roles. The following are specific ways autonomy contributes to preventing employee burnout:

1. Increased Job Satisfaction

Autonomy fosters a sense of ownership and fulfillment in one’s work. When employees are free to make decisions and exercise creativity in their roles, they are more likely to feel engaged and satisfied with their jobs. This sense of fulfillment acts as a buffer against burnout, as employees derive intrinsic motivation from their autonomy.

2. Enhanced Work-Life Balance

Autonomy allows employees to have more control over their schedules and workload. This enables them to better balance their professional responsibilities with personal obligations and interests. By having the flexibility to adjust their work hours or take breaks when needed, employees can improve stress management and avoid fatigue that often leads to burnout.

3. Reduced Stress Levels

When employees have autonomy over their work, they can decide how they approach tasks and prioritize their workload. This sense of control can significantly reduce stress by allowing individuals to work in ways that align with their strengths, preferences, and work styles.

 

How Can Employees Contribute?

Autonomy in the workplace is not solely the responsibility of the company. Rather, it requires a collective effort between employers and employees.

While employers can create a supportive environment that fosters autonomy, employees also play a crucial role in actively contributing to and benefiting from this culture. Here are ways you can contribute to building autonomy in the workplace:

1. Communicate your needs.

Open and honest communication is essential in fostering autonomy in the workplace. As an employee, you should have the freedom to communicate your needs, preferences, and limitations to those in charge.

While this sounds daunting, discussing your workload, schedule, and other issues brings focus to your concerns and opens more opportunities for collaborative resolution. Remember to express your needs effectively and make sure your work arrangements and setup align with your preferences and capacities. Be reasonable in your requests and consider how this may affect the company.

Ultimately, the goal is to have a better alignment between you and the organization. By establishing a culture of transparent communication, you encourage mutual respect and understanding between you and the management.

2. Propose solutions.

Rather than solely identifying problems, you should seek innovative solutions to mitigating burnout. This proactive approach involves offering constructive suggestions that can improve the overall company processes.

Actively participating in problem-solving discussions allows you to demonstrate your commitment to finding practical solutions instead of simply stating an activity that causes stress. Moreover, being proactive can make you feel more empowered to contribute your skills and ideas to a healthy extent. It also helps you become a valuable member of your organization.

3. Set clear boundaries.

Establishing clear boundaries within your workplace environment is necessary for maintaining a healthy work-life balance and preventing burnout. This involves defining your professional responsibilities and communicating your limitations effectively.

Since job autonomy usually gives you the privilege of choosing the best times to finish your tasks, it becomes your responsibility to communicate your work hours and availability. This ensures that your co-workers know when they can expect your input or the best time for collaboration.

Being autonomous also means you shouldn’t be forced to finish tasks outside your role. Remember that it’s okay to be proactive and do the extra work you want to experience. Just make sure that you’ve set clear boundaries to prevent stress and overwork.

4. Embrace accountability.

Regardless of your level or position, you need to take ownership of your tasks and the results of your actions.

Another way to embrace accountability is to hold yourself to a high standard of performance. Consistently meet deadlines, take initiative to solve challenges, and proactively strive for improvement without compromising your health or boundaries.

When you demonstrate accountability as a professional, you give your leaders and co-workers a reason to trust you. This can lead to increased autonomy and authority with important projects and decisions.

5. Cultivate self-awareness.

It’s essential to practice self-compassion by listening to your physical and mental capacities, but it’s equally important to cultivate self-awareness about what you’re experiencing at work.

Self-awareness begins with consciously tuning into your inner experiences and observing how they influence your thoughts and actions at work. This involves regularly checking in with yourself to assess your stress, energy, and overall well-being.

Taking the time to reflect on your emotions and reactions to different work situations can give you valuable insights into your triggers, strengths, and areas for growth.

 

CONNECT WITH COMPANIES THAT VALUE YOU AND YOUR WELL-BEING

Are you looking for ways to connect with companies that value both autonomy and their people? Seek professional help with Strategic Systems!

With nearly two decades of experience in the staffing industry, we have created a vast network of excellent companies and organizations that will benefit from your talents.

Reach out to us today to further your career.

 

References

“Burnout an ‘Occupational Phenomenon’: International Classification of Diseases.” World Health Organization, 28 May 2019, www.who.int/burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases.

“Addressing Employee Burnout: Are You Solving the Right Problem?” McKinsey, 27 May 2022, www.mckinsey.com/addressing-employee-burnout-are-you-solving-the-right-problem.

Fisher, Jen. “Workplace Burnout Survey.” Deloitte, 27 Mar. 2024, www2.deloitte.com/burnout-survey. 17 Mar. 2024.

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