WOTW - Managing Burnout Is An Inside Job

Managing Burnout Is An Inside Job

At WOTW, we are committed to creating space for women leaders to talk about what might have their attention. And what has a lot of attention right now is burnout and overwhelm. 

Burnout is a significant trend for women in the workplace. Gallup just announced that one in six people are reporting suffering from depression or burnout. A recent survey found that almost 70 percent of senior executives are seriously considering quitting a job that better supports their well-being, and more than 80 percent said that improving their well-being is now more important to them than advancing their work. 

These statistics reminded me of something I had read about Catherine Engelbert, the first female U.S. CEO of a Big Four firm. She was employed with Deloitte from 1986 until her retirement in 2019. She had worked hard to become the CEO, but was told there wasn’t a strong succession plan in place for her role. Feedback, particularly from women leaders, had been that they didn’t want the unrelenting work schedule that came with the title. They saw Engelbert’s long work weeks and the trade-offs she had to make and didn’t know if it was worth it. I hear a lot of women echoing these statements. When they see what other leaders are doing, they’re not sure they want to sacrifice more for their role. 

And women leaders aren’t just second-guessing promotions: many aren’t feeling the same way about their current role. Some report that their role used to provide a lot of joy or fulfillment, and that has shifted. Or their role has shifted and their “why” doesn’t seem obvious anymore. All of these situations can be a source of burnout. 

I had to do a lot of work on myself around burnout and overwhelm, and one of the strategies that I used was to ask for help. My therapist helped me work on my balance wheel, where I discovered I didn’t have anything in the spirituality section. We decided together that I was going to begin studying Buddhism, and one of the most freeing concepts I learned was this idea of impermanence. Having a perspective that nothing in life is permanent has set me free. 

This comes up often when I talk to women about the dissatisfaction they feel within their roles. The reality is that work is never going to be a permanent, stable structure. Amidst mergers, acquisitions, layoffs, and evolving roles, our work is to get comfortable with impermanence, and maintain our balance in the face of constant change. 

I also remind women executives that we will want something different at different times of our life. Work—and life—are iterative and we have to keep checking in with ourselves. Start by asking yourself the following:

  • What is my why? Has it changed? 
  • What is important for me now? Have my priorities changed? 
  • What would have to be true for me to find joy in the work I’m doing? 

Sometimes we can get caught in the external peripheral notions of managing burnout versus the inside work of understanding what stokes the fire in our belly. It’s hard. Because no one else can decide that for us.

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