Sonia had been allocated to me as part of a leadership development program she was on. She worked for a large organisation. On our first session, she cried. She was burnt out. I felt for Sonia. We used the meeting to prepare her for a conversation with her boss about her need to take a little time off. This included talking about finding her some additional support and her going to the Doctor. It wasn’t what I expected the meeting to be like, and that’s the beauty of being the coach, people bring their whole selves, and we work through whatever issue they are having.

It wasn’t just a bad day in the office

The more we delved into it, we realised that this situation wasn’t just a bad day in the office, but an ongoing political dynamic was playing out; not being heard; working too many hours; not being able to switch off; managing anxiety; family and the list went on. In the end, it was too much to handle; the warning signs were there; something needed to change dramatically.

Burnout is real and is affecting many

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently said this “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress. Three dimensions characterise it: feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy”. 21% of brave Australian employees report they have taken time off work due to feeling mentally unwell, and I suspect there are many many more who don’t report this and take a “doona day” to recover and get a little respite.

Sonia’s conversation with her boss went well, she had asked for a few days, but he insisted on a two-week break, with a check-in point to see how she was feeling. We mapped out her leave. 

Here’s what we agreed to do:

Switch the work mobile off

Sonia felt like she was “on” even when she wasn’t. When she started in the organisation as a consultant, she was virtually on call, so when she switched to an employee, the boundaries didn’t get reset, and she found she was still “on.”

Set the out of office on

Being clear with people about your whereabouts (especially if it’s unexpected) and giving them an alternative contact, means peace of mind for all.

Leave the laptop in the home office, in its bag

Leave her laptop in the home office, in its bag. Previously Sonia would get home and sort the family out and then jump back on the laptop (see the first point), so we had to do something physical to help her out, in this case, it was not unpacking the laptop.

Go to the Doctor

Sonia knew that she needed extra support, so she went and got a mental health plan and found a psychologist through a friend’s recommendation.

Book some sessions for extra support

Many coaches are not qualified Psychologists, and in a situation like this, it’s essential to surround yourself with the “right” professionals. Surrounding yourself with the right people is the best decision you can make.

Practice some self-care

This means different things for everyone. Sonia found that hitting some golf balls at the local driving range allowed the chatter in her brain to calm.

The result

I caught up with Sonia on her first week back at work. She felt happy, but more importantly, realised that she was not in a great place personally before her leave and didn’t want to go back to her role or the environment. Her circumstances were such that she and her husband agreed that she could leave the business.

It doesn’t always end this way; many people take a break and feel refreshed and ready to go. The beauty of stepping out of the business for some time means that you can assess where you are at and make some healthy choices because you are no longer in that place.

The ideal scenario is to recognise this before you reach breaking point, but that can be hard to do in the middle of it, can’t it?