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Could Higher EQ Prevent Burnout?

The subject of my blog today is as a result of some disturbing news from Austria, namely that at least 50 per cent of businesses report that they have (or had) staff who suffer from burnout.

Burnout means that someone literally has no more spark in them; they are exhausted mentally and physically, lack motivation and enthusiasm, and are unable to meet the demands of their job.

And if you’re experiencing stress at work, then this will inevitably spill over into your private life, affecting all your relationships. It can be a very slippery downhill slope towards feelings of isoloation, despair and even more serious psychological problems.

The ‘Arbeiterkammer’ (Austrian Chamber of Labour) in Upper Austria suggests that this shocking burnout statistic is a result of employees having to take on more and more work, and that employers should employ more staff to deal with the extra workload.

Whilst there is undoubtedly some truth in this, any solution in this direction would be dependent upon Government incentives which provided greater support to businesses, making it easier and cheaper to increase their workforce. (As a self-employed person in Austria I can confirm that a) social insurance contributions are very high and b) the bureaucracy involved in taking on extra help is a strong deterrent).

Burnout usually begins with stress at work, and there are many ways in which you can reduce and potentially prevent it, the majority of which do not involve taking medication of any kind. A fairly painless option is to work on your emotional intelligence, or EQ.

A brief definition of EQ

Daniel Goleman, an American psychologist and science journalist, developed the concept of this particular type of intelligence in the 1990s, based on research from two US Professors, Peter Salovey and John Mayer. Goleman’s model describes five elements that make up emotional intelligence: self-awareness, self-management, internal motivation, empathy, and social skills.

Briefly defined, EQ is your capacity to work sensitively with yourself and with others.

So how self-aware are you? If you’re upset or frustrated, do you keep it to yourself or shout at the person nearest to you? What is your physical reaction to stress? Do you clench your fists or grate your teeth? Does your stomach tense up or do you have trouble sleeping?

Acknowledge what is happening. Don’t tell yourself that you have to keep your emotions under control – controlling your feelings is denying them, and you’ll waste valuable energy conducting an internal discussion that you can never win. Don’t blame others for your stress either, or worse, blame yourself.

You could begin to improve your self-awareness by asking yourself honestly whether you enjoy what you do, and if you don’t, find something else. As you may have already heard me say (on a frequent basis!), we all have to pay the bills, so why on earth would you do a job that you didn’t want to?

Allow yourself to start your search for something new because the only person who can make a significant change is you. If you’re miserable at work, you’ll be demoralising your personality on a daily basis.

Yes, looking for something new will push you out of your comfort zone, and yes it’s going to take some time and effort. But if the alternative is to stay where you are … do you love yourself enough to take full responsibility for your future?

Assuming that your stress goes beyond the pressure you put yourself under of meeting a work deadline, how do you manage yourself? When did you last give yourself some time out to do what YOU wanted to do? Could you find 30 minutes or an hour each day to read a book? Go for a walk or a run? Have a long bath? Do something creative such as painting or writing? Meditation or yoga?

And could you do those things without thinking about everything that was still on your to-do list?

Choose an activity that you can do on your own, because although you may love to spend time with your friends and family, and of course it’s great to socialise and have fun (if that’s what you like), you will be acting in a way that you believe that others expect you to behave. You’ll be preventing the ‘real’ you from relaxing, and in the long term that just means more pressure.

By learning how to manage yourself, by giving yourself permission to be ‘you’ and not constantly trying to be the perfect employee, partner, boss or colleague, by giving yourself an outlet to do something that you love, you will contribute to your wellbeing more than you can possibly imagine.

In my next blog I’m going to write about what managers could be doing to help their employees better manage work pressure and stress – until then.


If you would like to read more about using your emotional intelligence to reduce stress, click here for a special offer for the electronic version of my book 'Working Under Pressure' (also available in hard copy from Amazon).

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