The Paradox of the Corporate Employee: How to be Highly Engaged and Avoid Burnout

Having made a sea change a number of years ago it has been a while since I have been reminded of the years I spent in the corporate sector where I would work extremely long hours across the completion of complex projects. I was however very abruptly reminded of this when I overcommitted with a few consulting projects just recently, which of course was right in the middle of the kids school book week where I had set the bar high last year with a couple of pretty awesome costumes- needless to say they had high expectations this time around.

As I had already committed to the work not pushing through just didn’t seem an option. The question was how was I going to fit everything in? 

This made me reflect on my previous life which seems like a world away now, how did I do it then? I had way more pressures and the kids were much younger. I did manage through and found by making very careful and deliberate choices I was able to maintain a semblance of harmony in my work and life.

There were a number of methods I employed to get through the really busy periods, some of which may work for you and some of which may not. The key is to be conscious of the need to stay connected with your life outside of work and also maintain an awareness of the importance of your physical and mental health in times where longer working hours are unavoidable.

Take any opportunity to switch off

For me this meant walking out of the office, switching off devices and not being connected to work at all. I was only available when I was in the office. I understand though that this is not possible for everyone and in todays “connected” workplace, it is often beneficial to be able to stay connected at all times and understand what is happening at work. With that said, it is still important to allow yourself some time to switch off, even if only for 5 minutes at a time to practice some mindfulness techniques, talk to family or friends over the phone or even just listen to some music. These downtimes will help you through and are critical to your ability to remain engaged in the achievement of your work goals

Realise the importance of diet

This comes from understanding the value of certain foods and their ability to stimulate concentration. If you eat poorly – that is a choice you have made. It doesn’t matter how busy you are – you still control this aspect of your life. Studieshave shown that eating more fruit and vegetables for instance can lead to greater happiness, satisfaction, and have a positive affect on your overall life. In addition to choosing the right foods, I also took the time to eat on my own away from my desk whenever possible in order to really enjoy the food and allow my body and mind the rest it craved. By eating in this manner I was able to remain productive after mealtimes. During periods where I did eat poorly I would often find it hard to re-engage with work which hurt my overall productivity and probably led to my staying at the office longer than was necessary which was counter-productive to the entire exercise anyway.

Ensure to switch off quickly at night to get as much sleep as possible

There is nothing more frustrating (for me anyway) than going to bed at night knowing you may only get 5-6 hours of sleep at most and then taking an hour or more to drift off. With that in mind there are steps you can take to ensure that you give yourself the best chance to go to sleep quickly. For me, this included making the room as dark as possible and removing all electrical items and lights as well as ensuring the room was at an optimal temperature (don’t leave that heater going in winter!) to avoid waking up after your first sleep cycle. Doing this allowed me to get as much sleep as possible and gave me a fighting chance of keeping my wits about me

Set yourself goals (personal and business)

During periods where I knew I would be required to work long shifts I would ensure to set daily and weekly goals (where possible) across the business KPIs I would also have 1-2 personal goals. This may be as simple as jumping on and organizing my next holiday or touching base with a friend about an upcoming social event, taking these fleeting moments helped to keep me in touch with my personal life. It did take a few mishaps for me to learn this skill like realising that I hadn’t paid my phone bill only when the phone was cut off and missing the RSVP cut-off to a close friends’ wedding (which thankfully they waived for me but it shows what can be missed!) 

Reward yourself

Again this is a personal preference but I found it important to reward myself (or my wife) with some kind of acknowledgement of the work conducted and sacrifices made during the period of a long project. I did this to remind mysefl why I worked this way in the first place. Yes, it is great to see a project implemented effectively or any hard work pay off for a client but you also need to achieve personal satisfaction for yourself and the other significant people in your life otherwise what is the point? I would often plan a weekend away or a fancy dinner, rewards like this can take any form and if planned ahead can provide that light at the end of the tunnel when you think that maybe the busy period is never going to end.

At the end of the day I look back on this period of my life with fondness and, at times, miss the adrenaline rush of taking on a huge piece of work and nailing it in terms of deadlines and quality. But I also acknowledge the importance that looking after myself played in these times which allowed me to take on these projects across the years I spent in the corporate sector.

By adopting these principals during my recent return to the time poor world of super busy people I got through this period, completed the various projects for all of my clients, still kept up with my share of the house duties and my kids still had really cool costumes for their book week parade, ok so I might have cheated purchased them but hey they still had a great costume to wear right? That leads me to my final tip when in doubt – outsource. 

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