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Burnout - The Untold Story (Part II)

Mental struggle and potential burnout at workplace has been becoming increasingly important topic to talk about during these modern days. I have met many people, who experiences severe symptoms yet they weren't aware of the possibility of the mental health impact that's being caused.

Do you remember Kay's story from our previous blog post (Part One)? If not, or you haven't read it, head over there now, because we will be continuing.

So, where is Kay in our story at the moment.? Right, she's been signed off from work due to possible burnout. Let's head back a little and get a closer look onto the timeline and feelings Kay experienced. You might be able to see a pattern in the symptoms, it may perhaps resonate with you and your personal experience as well, but let's remember that everyone is different and unique in their own way so the path can slightly differ for each.

personal assistant having headache

There are usually five stages of burnout, however I will expand them in order to go deeper into the symptoms, thoughts and feelings.

Today, we will be focusing on the first two stages - THE HONEYMOON STAGE and OFFSET OF STRESS PHASE.

Kay will take us into the exciting world of an executive assistant for Ultra High Net-Worth Individuals (UHNWIs), but unravel the ugly truth many professionals experience in high demanding jobs.

#1st stage of Burnout


Kay has always been driven to success, since university, she worked hard to achieve what she decided is the right choice for her, and ultimately became an Executive Personal Assistant. She thought she rightfully deserved every bit of the career success, convinced she will be rewarded for her determination and perhaps just reached the top of her career dream and things will start to get easier from now on.

"Kay has been destined for the role and her career path stirred her right into it's course."

You might guess these feeling points to the title of the first phase - Honeymoon phase, which perhaps most people experience when succeeding in their career path, therefore I would like to emphasize that it's completely normal to feel like that and it does not indicate you will steer yourself into the next stages.

photo of ferrari car

Kay entered the world of luxury. From corporate settings she experienced in her previous roles, this meant a great change. No longer she had a team of colleagues on similar level, direct and indirect superiors and only a handful of responsibilities, which were not shared with others. Now she was the only person in charge of smooth day-to-day run and management of UHNW couple's life. At that time, her principal was engaged to his fiancee, living a busy business life, only starting to plan how to expand his portfolio of assets and luxury life-style.

This was exciting times for the couple and Kay felt privileged she was given responsibilities which represented the seniority level of her career.

Just imagine the feelings she experienced, you are from a middle class working family, well educated, going on family holiday twice per year, having a summer house in the countryside, a dog.. Sounds pretty normal, right? And then you are drawn into the lifestyle of high net wort individual, their luxury residence, amazing office space, team of employees to take care of their needs. People like that don't even go shopping themselves, did you know that?

private island.catamaran plane

Spending a lot of money on purchases for the family was on daily basis, it's somehow written in our DNA, that shopping and spending means stability and safety. However try to draw a line with your mind that it's not your money you are spending and not your life you are managing luxurious.

"Shopping and spending means stability and safety."

From running a busy households and private estates outside UK, which included HR, training all household workers, managing all admin and legal aspect of all employees, creating schedules and dealing closely with each one of the team member, to assisting with any matter to the principals, from personal shopping, coordinating all travel arrangements, to researching private school within driving distance for their later children.

Both principals thinking Kay was there for them solely, therefore she would get cross messaged with questions and requests all the time, leaving her only little time for other duties.

I have met Kay numerous times during those days and could see, that this role made her excited and driven like she was before, hungry for recognition.

The question is: is the speed of the role sustainable?

Kay was experiencing excessive drive, her ambition fueled by demanding management, who made her feel that this is normal pace for the role, and she felt she is accomplishing the career she dreamed of.

Overall quite a positive chapter. Do you agree?

I certainly do, and that's why it's called the Honeymoon Stage. At this point Kay kept her ambition to drive her to the perfection, she wanted to reshape the the role to compete satisfaction, but she failed to understand a key point, perhaps to acknowledge the mindset of her principals and the fact, that some people will just never be fully satisfied with anything...

"Some people will never be fully satisfied, even if you dedicate your life to the role."

She maintained this speed for more than 5 years, and what she started to experience next comes naturally and I believe that most of us experienced it sometimes. We will talk about STRESS.

#2nd Stage of Burnout

Onset of stress phase

As lovely as the first stage might seem, there's a darker side of working so hard, being pushed or pushing yourself harder despite already dedicating more than a healthy amount of time & effort into your work life. Yes, we are talking about stress.

Every one of us experiences stress, in one way or another, however it's up to us how we decide to respond and manage the stresser in our life.

Many ambitious professionals decide to ignore the first signs, keep working hard but over a time that has an enormous impact on one's life.

Kay was ultimately one of those professionals and started to experience stress, which she had mistaken for other feelings (which can be quite common), like for the rush, the drive, the challenge and adrenaline she had at work. Nonetheless the symptoms spoke for themselves and Kay started to occasionally lose her focus.

Losing Focus

lady working from home. sitting on her bed, having laptop on her knees. she has a dog on the bed too

Losing focus is one of the first psychological signs she came across, and at the beginning Kay thought she just needed a break, she knew she worked hard for long and kept pushing herself to deliver the best results, but WHERE TO TAKE THE TIME TO GET SOME BEAK? She had so many responsibilities and projects working on, which didn't really allow her to take a proper chunk of time and focus on herself, get some quality self time and return fresh as a daisy. Even when she thought about relaxing over the weekend, there were messages and calls from work, demanding her attention despite her time off.

Well, we can see the first red flag over there...

Kay was living fast-paced, thinking that a bit of stress is natural in the modern days, and there's most likely no-one in the city who doesn't face the same issue. Secondly, she was convinced the principals and the team need her attention constantly, otherwise the house will perhaps burn to the ground. At least that's what every day requests for attention made her feel like.

When I spoke to her about this particular topic, looking back, she said she wished to say NO more often and set more visible healthy boundaries with both the management and the team she had under direct supervision.

The position is, after all, senior business role and structured hierarchy even when you work for a private client / family needs to be set, but for Kay in her case, she was made to feel like part of the family... (and you would answer to your family on Sunday evening, wouldn't you?!)

Physical Tiredness

After little while, Kay started to experience more physical symptoms connected to stress, she could feel physically tired despite not working physically / doing heavy work-outs.

This particular symptom unsettled her, and she started to ask the question "How can my dream job drain energy from me?!"

The answer was quite simple but couldn't really be seen through at that time with a tired mindset - WORK OVERLOAD.

Kay had too much on her plate, too much for any executive personal assistant, there was no doubt in her capabilities, and unfortunately she was convinced she had no other choice than to keep delivering the best results.

lady overwhelmed with work. piles of papers on her desk

Sometimes we push ourselves very hard, and that's ok, if it's managed, timed and planned. Little wonder out of our comfort zone can actually help us to discover new potentials and possibilities that we wouldn't know about. But, continuous stress & work overload can lead to another physical symptom, which Kay experienced on her own skin.

Trouble Sleeping

National Institute of Health and the NHS agree that an adult needs on average 7 - 9 hours of sleep every day. This can of course vary, depending on each person, however imagine that Kay was a good sleeper and slept for about 8 hours every night. That was the golden rule for her many years, and suddenly she found it hard to fall asleep. She would be laying in the bed, staring at the ceiling or with closed eyes, trying very hard not to let her mind wonder about work stuff and try to relax, and waking up tired, which really isn't the best start of the day.

insomnia, trouble sleeping, lady lying on bed with opened eyes

If you combine the symptoms mentioned in this chapter - trouble sleeping with physique tiredness and difficulty focusing, we have a lovely mix of red flags leading us down the path towards a burnout.

Kay managed for a few months, but without making any dramatic change in her workload she was led towards the third stage of Burnout, where she started to experience more severe levels of psychological and physical symptoms.

And we will talk about that in the next chapter..

It was an absolute pleasure for me to reveal another chapter of Kay's story. We both hope you won't have to encounter any of Kay's struggles and perhaps take a little example of "what not to do".

Raising more awareness about mental health at work has been a part of my dedication to reshape the market, empower professionals with key elements and highlight a simple structure leading to self-destruction, so everyone can see that in plain day-light. No more "but I just don't have time for myself apart from work", let's try to balance life and work on a healthy level.

Stay sane.....


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