The consequences of burnout can be detrimental, so give your mental health the care it deserves.
The topic of burnout has perhaps never been discussed with such frequency in the mainstream as it is today, with COVID-19, fluctuating work environments, and the stress of uncertainty persisting for so long. Though relevant to all, burnout is a topic particularly important for those in the AEC industry. AEC professionals often find themselves working very long hours in entrepreneurial settings, where working harder is rewarded by clients and managers alike. Rise-and-grind culture may enable workers to overperform in the short-term, but studies show that the consequences are usually detrimental.
Not just a buzzword. Psychological Science reports that persistent cynicism, overworking, and stress can lead to a rewiring of neural circuits in the brain, making negative thought patterns increasingly automatic. This is burnout. This explains why those experiencing burnout struggle to think clearly and control negative feelings. On a job site, this can be a dangerous mindset. When disruptions arise and unforeseen challenges present themselves, a burned out professional will be more likely to react emotionally and have trouble problem-solving.
Find a company that values employee mental health. Often, company culture sets the tone for how comfortable an employee feels prioritizing mental health. Colliers Engineering & Design has implemented myriad practices and initiatives to encourage work-life balance and promote employee wellness. The firm has most recently made a change in HR policy for sick time off, adding mental health days as a formal benefit. With a Diversity & Inclusion Committee, Women’s Organization, Parent Resource Center, Wellness Committee, and comprehensive benefits packages, Colliers Engineering & Design does its best to offer its employees the resources they need to avoid burnout.
Avoiding persistent overworking. Boundaries expert and author Nedra Glover Tawwab emphasizes the importance of boundaries for preventing burnout, especially in the age of home offices and email on smart phones. Limiting hours and days of the week dedicated to work, when possible, is ideal. She also teaches that we should be proactive when it comes to self-care.
Colliers Engineering & Design’s Women’s Organization hosted a Work-Life-Balance Panel discussion, where employees asked advice from a variety of panelists, included a similar message. As they said, there is value in carving out time before and after work for quiet moments, and for family and friends. Whether that is waking up early to read and sip on coffee in peace, or committing to a nightly walk with a spouse, it is important to cultivate joy outside of working hours.
Preventing incessant cynicism. As Simply Psychology explains, if you continually solidify the thought that Monday is the worst and Friday afternoon means freedom, the prophecy can become self-fulfilling. Make positive associations with work to avoid only associating it with stress and negativity. This may look like bringing personal items that spark joy to keep at your desk, bringing foods you enjoy for lunch, dressing in a way that feels comfortable and makes you feel good about yourself, and limiting negative self-talk. At Colliers Engineering & Design, the firm provides free bagels and fruit on Thursdays, which adds fun to the weekday.
Negating work stress. Sometimes, a job has unavoidable aggravations or exceptionally high-performance expectations. The mental health experts at Talk Space recommend taking the time to recognize small wins. For many in the AEC industry, it takes months or years to finish a job, which may not give the instant gratification that completing a smaller job in a shorter period does. But progress happens day-by-day. Initiated a difficult conversation that went well? Finished the resume portion of a proposal? Did a safety check before starting a day in the field? Spend time feeling the fulfillment of small wins and tasks completed along the way.
Stay organized using to-do lists and schedules and keep your files up to date. According to Psychology Today, seeing your tasks written down and visually tracking their completion can strengthen your reward response, and give you a hit of dopamine, which becomes a satisfying intrinsic motivation to keep going through the next task.
Start today. Just as an old building needs inspection, so does your mental health. And just as many job sites require routine change detection and inspection, so do you. Your greatest asset is your mind, so give it the care it deserves.
Alexis Eades is a communications specialist for Colliers Engineering & Design. A graduate of Rutgers University, she has a passion for writing, learning, and traveling. You can read more from her here.