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How to Tell Your Boss You Have Burnout, According to a Psychologist

Burnout is multidimensional in that we can’t approach it with a one-track mind like we could stress. This is something you need to take into consideration when talking to your boss about burnout and its counterparts.

Should you talk to your boss about burnout? And how do you have a conversation with your boss about something that might be specifically rooted in the workplace? Here are a psychologist’s top tips on how to explore this space without feeling guilty. 

Is it OK to tell your boss you’re overwhelmed?

Burnout comes in three particular waves that we need to be incredibly mindful of. In its first bout, burnout sees us emotionally exhausted, which then accelerates to feelings of depersonalisation and usually ends in significantly diminished personal accomplishment.

When it occurs in the workforce - a place where we need to be productive and get things done - we often feel compelled to push through the red flags because that’s just what we think we’re supposed to do. 

While talking to your boss about how you’re mentally feeling may be incredibly daunting, communicating to them effectively, establishing boundaries, asking for a mental health day or week, and leaning into support systems can make the situation much more bearable.

How do I tell my boss I have burnout?

1. Open and effective communication

When you’re starting to feel the effects of burnout, it’s incredibly difficult to communicate effectively. Whether you’re overwhelmed with anxiety or you’re emotionally reactive, one thing you could do is achieve a win-win just through communication.

Here, it’s important to avoid the word ‘you’ and try to use ‘I’ statements. Making a statement like “I am finding it difficult to cope both emotionally and physically because my workload is quite high” is a great starting point, as is “I am wondering if there are any supports or resources available to help me”. This non-blaming, collaborative language allows room for relief, empowerment, vitality and trust.

But remember, open communication isn’t only about speaking - it’s also about active listening, so try to hear your boss out, turn their opposing ideas in co-existing ideas by using the word ‘and’ instead of ‘but’ and acknowledge what the other person is telling you instead. Using statements like “have I got that right?” is a fantastic way to check in periodically during your conversation to make sure you’re both on the same page.

2. Treat a mental health day just like any other sick day

Usually when it comes to calling in sick, we don’t often hesitate. Calling in sick due to your mental health being compromised should be treated in the same light.

Having a mental health day (or two) just means we have time to tend to something we personally need to address in order to prevent being distracted, or to go to a mental health-related appointment. This can be a form of burnout prevention because it allows us the time to ensure replenishment of our body and mind.

It’s crucial to ensure enough rest, sleep and relaxation is achieved on your mental health day, and to allow your body to recharge via rest, as well as your mind via meditation or grounding.

3. Ask for employee assistance

Leaning into supports such as our family and friends are all fair and well however, our bosses might be the support we need the most. Employers often have services available to their staff members such as onsite and offsite practitioners, who can provide them with information and support to aid with their condition.

Speaking to your boss and about what employee assistance programs are available is a great way to get moving in the right direction. They can provide access to psychologists and other supports, which can be completely confidential.

This open line of conversation may help your boss understand where you’re really at and also ensure your boss has the opportunity to help you as best as they can.

If you or someone you know needs help, please call Lifeline on 13 11 14. In an emergency, call 000. If you are concerned about your health, wellbeing or sleep, you can also speak to your GP, who will advise a correct treatment plan.

Noosha Anzab is a clinical psychotherapist & psychologist at Lysn. Lysn is a digital mental health company with world class wellbeing technology which helps people find their best-fit professional psychologist whilst being able to access online tools to improve their mental health.

For more on this topic, here are the three main stages of burnout you need to know about.

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