The Study: 

Narratives of burnout and recovery from an agency perspective: A two-year longitudinal study

 Stela Salminena,⁎, Elena Andreoua, Juha Holmaa, Mika Pekkonenb, Anne Mäkikangasa
The Process: 

The study followed four participants for over two years- from initial burnout throughout their burnout recovery. The researchers used a narrative method, meaning they spoke to the participants two times and used one questionnaire.
The Findings:

While people usually only attribute their jobs and work environment to the cause of burnout, the study found that attributes from all areas of life create burnout. It’s typically a storm of events that happen all at once- sick family members, divorce, unsupportive bosses or work situations that can create burnout. In at least one of the participants, the burnout seemed to happen overnight. 

How it applies to Entrepreneurship?

It’s important to know what burnout looks like before it becomes a complete meltdown that leaves you incapable of doing anything. That’s exactly how the participants described their burnout- “I couldn’t manage it anymore.” “I wasn’t able to cope.” 

There becomes a breaking point for your mind and body that if pushed long enough and hard enough it will give up, regardless of what you will it to do. 

So, what are the symptoms of burnout?

  1. Exhaustion
  2. cynicism
  3. reduced professional efficacy- which means you no longer feel like you’re accomplishing things with your work, or you’re constantly dissatisfied with your progress at/with work.

Notice these symptoms in yourself early-on as a good way to help prevent burnout. 

As much as we like to compartmentalize our lives, our bodies, our thoughts- it’s impossible to do so. An unsupportive and stressful work environment will impact your home and personal life and vice versa. 

How did they heal from burnout?

The participants in this study were all a part of a rehabilitation program, but most of them didn’t attribute the rehab to what helped them the most. The study notes that everyone’s path to recovery is different, but there are common themes:

  1. Rehab 

The rehab served as a time out. A time to reflect on their own needs, and learn how to meet them best. This could be accomplished in multiple ways including therapy. 

      2. Supportive supervisor 

One of the participants had a supervisor and work situation that was very supportive of her recovery. The other three had to quit or retire from their positions. 

    3. A mindset shift in how they approach work. 

One participant said that before her burnout episode, she would see tasks that didn’t get completed and stacks of papers that needed to be worked on, and she would see failure. She thought she didn’t succeed that day because there were still things left to do. After her burnout, she focused on the things she did accomplish. And was comfortable with letting the work sit there until the next workday. 

This reminds of something Justin Jackson said in his newsletter on Saturday. He was talking about having margins in our businesses and our lives, and he said as a side note to a story of one of his failed businesses, “If you’re employed by a “low-margin” business, do everything you can to get out. Your boss will download their anxiety, lack of health, and mania on to you. They’ll make YOU feel the pressure THEY feel. Things won’t get better; get out as soon as you can.”  

What Justin said is very accurate and supported by the research in this study. A bad and unsupportive supervisor played a critical role in the participant’s burnout.
But what if you are your own supervisor? 

As entrepreneurs, we are our own supervisors. There’s no one there to push us to work longer hours or to encourage us to take a day off when we’ve pushed for too long but ourselves. 

Personal agency is what the study called when a person has strong personal boundaries. When a participant had “personal agency” they were able to recover and heal faster than those without it. Rehan and experience taught them how to have boundaries. They learned when to seek help, who to turn to, and how to say no. 

 [It’s important for me to note that two of the four participants listed their dog as non-judgmental support that helped them during their recovery- because dogs are awesome. ]

The best thing you can do for yourself, to prevent burnout is to know what the symptoms are- cynicism, exhaustion, and feeling like you aren’t getting things accomplished. Then creating strong and clear boundaries for yourself. Take some time off or scale back, go for walks outside, spend time with family, etc. 

We know these things are helpful, and yet we still push ourselves beyond what’s safe for our bodies and minds. Be a good boss to yourself. 

I recently saw this thread from Benji Hyam on Twitter

Benji did exactly what we all need to do when we feel burnout creep up. Take a step back, and give your body and brain time to rest. 

Source: Received 28 March 2017; Received in revised form 9 August 2017; Accepted 10 August 2017

⁎ Corresponding author. E-mail address: (S. Salminen).

Burnout Research 7 (2017) 1–9

2213-0586/ © 2017 The Authors. Published by Elsevier GmbH. This is an open access article under the CC BY-NC-ND license (