Burnout: Why it's worse in newsrooms and what to do about it

February 12, 2019 01:30

An inability to complete simple tasks. Exhaustion. Loss of motivation. Feeling overwhelmed, anxious, depressed or all three. These are all symptoms of burnout. Burnout is not new, but is growing unfortunately more common and thankfully more talked about.

News professionals are especially vulnerable to burnout
Workplaces are a significant contributor to burnout, and newsrooms inherently exhibit risk factors for burnout. They’re high-stress, fast-paced environments with heavy workloads, limited control and the need to always be on. In today’s vitriolic environment, it’s sometimes a thankless or even devalued job as journalists face public or online harassment, threats and even violence.

Traditional solutions don’t work
Coping mechanisms for easing burnout often include advice to exercise, meditate, do yoga, or try a new hobby. While physical and mental activities outside of work can and do help, these recommendations often just feel like adding another obligation to an already ballooning To Do list – and one that must be documented and shared on social media to continue building a personal brand.

Other common advice focuses on developing resilience – the ability to power through and bounce back from challenges and adversity. But this can backfire, too. The more resilient, the more likely you’ll be asked to – or push yourself to – do even more.

Some advice attempts to address steps workplaces can take, like discouraging team members from taking work home, but fail to address how those who buck that advice and do the extra work anyway to set themselves apart are often rewarded with increased expectations.

Three anti-burnout steps to try
If you’re feeling the beginnings of burnout, whenever possible, simplify your task list. Delegate or ask for help. Separate the urgent and the important.

If you are always the one to step up, remember that it’s ok to say “no.” It can make it easier to do so if you an suggest an alternative, offer a choice (“yes, but that means dropping x other task”) or show how a new ask doesn’t line up with a team’s stated goals.

Stop multitasking or, more accurately, switching rapidly back and forth between tasks. Pause for a moment to enjoy completing a task, and take some time every once in a while to look over some recent work you really enjoyed.

Avoid the constant push to be productive
Often our personal To Do lists are as daunting as our workplace tasks, but aiming to constantly be productive contributes to burnout. It can be difficult to do so without feeling guilty (or news cycle FOMO), but disconnecting, even for thirty minutes, is a crucial opportunity to recharge. If you find yourself getting home and saying “I should” to an endless list of chores, challenge yourself to occasionally change that to “I want” and do something rewarding – or absolutely nothing – instead.

How managers and employers can help
You can’t avoid burnout on your own. Research has shown that a sense of community in the workplace and the availability of mentors decreases burnout. Managers and employers have a significant role to play in creating healthier workplaces that are free of harassment, value each team member and help people grow, not burn out.

Managers can help by providing the resources needed for success and setting reasonable expectations, a tall order, to be sure, but key to a healthy, productive team. Even when resources are short, managers can work to not just reward achievers with more work and to find things to let go when asking for more. Perhaps most importantly, managers can walk the walk and not just urge staff to find work/life harmony, but to demonstrate it themselves and establish a balanced newsroom culture.