The 10 Labor Day Commandments Guaranteed to Reduce Workplace Stress and Prevent Burnout

Labor Day honors the contributions and achievements of American workers and is traditionally celebrated on the first Monday in September. It was created by the labor movement in the late 19th century and became a federal holiday in 1894. As the holiday approaches this year, American workers are reporting stress and burnout at unprecedented levels.

An online survey conducted by The Harris Poll for Samsonite in July this year found that 56% of 800 employees surveyed said they feel exhausted at work. And a new Gallup-Workhuman report found that 25% of employees describe being exhausted at work “very often” or “always.” A recent Bloatware report from Freshworks said 82% of IT professionals are burnt out, and more than 36% were the most burnt out they’ve ever been in their career. Once burnout sets in, it’s hard to recover quickly. So follow these 10 commandments to produce the cumulative effects of unmanaged work stress and offset burnout.

  1. You will stop. When the signs of fatigue appear, stop and ask yourself if you are Hhungry, Anasty, Lalone, or Jirritated. This warning signal can prevent cumulative stress and bring you back into balance. If one or a combination of the four states is present, slow down, take a few breaths, and relax. If you are hungry, take the time to eat. If you’re angry, deal with it in a healthy way. If you feel alone, reach out to someone you trust. And if you’re tired, rest.
  2. You will not zoom. A broad perspective allows you to take advantage of the many positive aspects of a working day. Think of a camera. You can replace the zoom lens, which focuses on your stressors, with a wide-angle lens, which absorbs stressors by helping you see greater possibilities. Identify a complaint you have about something. Maybe your mutual fund isn’t worth as much or you have to spend several sleepless nights to catch up on work. Once you have the complaint, put your wide angle lens on, pulling in the big picture and seeing the complaint in the larger scheme of your life. As you broaden your perspective, how important is the judgment you make? If you’re like most people, the complaint loses its force if you place it in a larger context.
  3. You’re gonna give yourself micro doses of self-compassion. One of the best remedies for stress and burnout is taking regular doses of kindness. An arm around your shoulder is good medicine for coexisting with the oppression of your inner critic – not someone else’s arm; your own supporting arm. Talk to yourself from the ledge like you would talk to a close friend when you’re unsure; give yourself an “atta-boy” or “atta-girl” after success; calm down after slipping up, missing a deadline or forgetting; give a thumbs up every time you complete a project, reach a successful milestone, or reach a goal. Studies show that tackling after a setback reduces your chances of rebounding. Instead of attacking you, a compassionate voice helps you bounce back and contributes to your engagement and productivity.
  4. You will have a “to-be” list. The compulsion to do constantly prevents you from feeling unpleasant emotions and gives you security even if the task itself is satisfying. When you commit to a less stressful life, you notice that you can just be without forcing yourself to do it constantly. Make a “upcoming list” to accompany your “to do list. Watch a sunset or a bird build its nest, listen to the sounds of nature around you or feel a breeze against your face. These activities recharge your batteries and contribute to professional success.
  5. You will set life lines and deadlines. When you define lifelines, you don’t miss deadlines. You put time cushions—opportunities to breathe, eat a snack, go to the bathroom, or just look out the window—between work tasks. When you have lifelines instead of deadlines, you’re less likely to hear that whistle as deadlines pass or feel that queasy feeling in the pit of your stomach of being “always” late. Your days become less rushed and harried, and you enjoy them more.
  6. You will not use simulations. Your body bears the brunt of bad news. If you’re like most people, you make up negative stories – called “what ifs” – about what the future holds before it happens: “What if I can’t meet the deadline?” or “What if I get a bad performance review?” When you do this, the body bears the burden. Think of a “what if” that is stalking you right now. As it whispers to you, notice what is going on inside your body. Your stomach could rock or your chest could tighten. Now reverse it. Are you whispering a positive prediction: “What if my business prospers?” or “What if some good came from my hard work?” Again, notice the difference in how something lifts in your body. It also carries the burden of potential good news.
  7. You will unplug. Managing your electronics instead of letting them manage helps you offset stress and burnout. Unplug at the end of the day and set limits to protect your personal and private time. Use custom ringtones for those you want to reach after hours. Limit the number of times a day you check your emails or text messages. And make instant messaging easy so you don’t create the expectation that you’re available 24/7.
  8. You will learn to say no. Draw a line when someone asks you to do something you don’t have time for. Tell yourself there’s a limit to what you can do and put the rest aside. Start seeing this attitude as a strong burnout prevention, not a weakness. When you say yes but mean no, you are not taking good care of your mental or physical well-being and this leads to overcommitment.
  9. You will not be multitasking. Studies show that multitasking isn’t what it’s supposed to be and in fact it takes longer to switch between tasks due to the extra time it takes to refresh your memory from each task. People who focus on one task at a time are more efficient, productive, and effective in work-life balance. And they are less likely to burn out.
  10. You will practice gratitude. Everything we focus on grows. Making a gratitude list brings you out of your narrow perspective, opens up the big picture, gives you a new outlook on life, and calms you down. Research suggests that written appreciation over verbal appreciation is more effective because visual representation allows the sender’s and receiver’s brain to register gratitude more deeply. Make a list of the many things you are grateful for: the people, places, pets, and things that make life worth living and bring you comfort and joy. Once you’ve made the list, reflect on your appreciation for each item and visualize all the things you might have taken for granted – things that, if you didn’t have them, would leave your life empty. As you practice this exercise, notice that you feel a greater appreciation for life, you are calmer, and you can feel the relief in your body.

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