Coming back from redundancy and burn-out
Clinical psychologist Laura Villa works with many people who have been off sick, helping them ease back into work. Sometimes, these have been physical illnesses, but often it has been burn-out. Someone who has been made redundant may only notice they had the symptoms of burnout when they stop work. Laura explains how to tell if you have burn-out, and gives her tips for coming back from redundancy and burnout.
You know you’ve had burn-out if you’ve experienced persistent symptoms which have made it increasingly difficult to carry out your job appropriately, and feel fulfilled by it. For example:
1) a chronic and persistent workplace stress which had become overwhelming and unmanageable
2) a growing sense of emotional depletion, exhaustion or fatigue that made it very challenging to get up in the morning, get to work, sustain normal tasks and work demands
3) increased mental distance from job to the point to becoming cynical, pessimistic and disinvested
4) increased headaches, palpitations,and disturbed sleep
5) work-related anxiety or low mood
And as a consequence, you might find that the demands of your job exceed your ability to cope with stress. Obviously, everyone is different. However, we also know that there often are some contextual factors. These could be individual or organisational factors, high job demands or a sense of loss of control.
Coming back from redundancy and burn-out
As burn-out stems from increased workplace stress, it is key that applying for a new job does not trigger the same stressful conditions suffered at work. Redundancy is tough regardless of whether it was sudden or expected. This is a time to recover and plan with care.
Some of my top tips are:
1) Recreate the best working conditions for yourself in line with your values and goals.
2) Identify old patterns that got you stuck and break away from them by taking small and value-based positive steps at the time. Believe in yourself and be consistent!
3) Set yourself realistic goals and aim for a balanced week. Remember to take breaks and introduce daily pleasurable activities.
Taking time out of job-hunting
You can do this, but you may well feel anxious that you don’t have a job. Whenever we take new significant actions or actions which are somehow outside our comfort zone, it is inevitable to feel some anxiety. This is normal and it is actually a sign that our brain is working well. It is alerting us. We can apply a more positive mind-set to this and ask ourselves: “how can we use our anxiety in our favour? What is our anxiety telling us?”
Noticing our thoughts, accepting them and reconnecting with the reasons and purposes underlying our choice is key to help us take committed positive actions. Together with being compassionate towards ourselves, so to nurture our choices.
How long is enough will vary from individuals, in line to their individual needs, purposes and financial resources.
A change of job, or a change of career?
This is a very individual choice. Either way, I would encourage anyone to reflect on where they are in their life and why they are considering a change. An analysis about the nature of their burn-out can be helpful to understand whether it was more caused by internal factors (for example, due to using maladaptive coping strategies or to a change of heart towards their profession) or by contextual factors (for example, mainly due to the workplace culture, leadership style or organisational changes).
Sometimes periods of transitions such as redundancy or sickness leave can trigger important transformational changes in individuals. For some, this might be realising that a career change is all they want. This can either be revisiting old passions or pursuing new interests. For some others, this might be about reinforcing their first choice, renewing their reasons that led them to work in their particular field.
Should you tell a new employer about your burn-out?
There is not a right or wrong answer to this question. It is a very individual choice which depends on personal preference, personality, type of field, the role that the person is applying to and timing.
Previous research about the work-culture and approach to burn-out and mental health of the new workplace might guide them. Gathering information about reviews of the new organiation might also be helpful.
For those who suffered severe burn-out which led to a more significant mental health problem, discussing their experience with HR might be an opportunity to initiate a conversation about values and work/life balance. However, some might find this too exposing.
Avoiding Future Burn-out
Some of my top tips to avoid future burnout are:
1) Before starting your new job, make sure that you have identified what led to your burn-out.
2) Identify your adaptive coping strategies against stress.
3) If you notice early signs of stress happening again, take prompt action and access your newly acquired ‘tool-kit’ of resources. Prevention is better than cure.
4) Nurture and maintain the ‘self-care strategies’ that you have learnt and developed during your Redundancy period.
5) If your burn-out led to a mental health condition, find out about what resources you can access at work (peer support, mentoring, psychological therapy).
Dr Laura Villa has worked as a clinical psychologist in for the NHS, and now is the founder of City Living Psychology. In her practice, she specialises in work-related stress, trauma and interpersonal difficulties., and, of course, burn-out.
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