Burnout is a risk that hovers menacingly over the head of every restaurant owner, manager and chef. It can sneak up on you with little or no warning, burrowing silently into your professional and your personal life. Defined as physical or mental collapse cause by overwork or stress, burnout can leave you feeling empty and incapable.
“Burnout is insidious,” says Jackie Nagel, president, Synnovatia. “It causes decision fatigue, erodes confidence, drains your energy, infects attitudes, amplifies cynicism, promotes inflexibility and encourages procrastination. Before long, you’re unable to focus at the task at hand. You’re easily disrupted by email and distracted by the simplest of things.”
Consider the experience of one Florida business owner, Piedad Trujillo. “I have to oversee employee and technicians operations, take care of clients and run the business as well. I've been doing this for 11 years now, and at this point in my career I feel thoroughly burned out. I feel that my passion is dying, and I find it difficult to have patience or tolerance with the staff.”
Arguably, the stresses of the foodservice business makes restaurant owners and managers more susceptible to business burnout than their peers in other industries.
Here are 10 easy steps you can take to minimize your chances of contracting burnout or help to banish it if you’re already feeling the symptoms.
1. Start by recognizing the symptoms of burnout
“One of the best ways to avoid burnout is by recognizing its symptoms,” says health coach Sylvie Heyman.
“Some of the most common symptoms of burnout are irritability, poor sleep or sleeping too long, forgetfulness, lack of motivation, lethargy, lack of energy, erratic eating behavior, bursts of anger, impatience and feelings of despair and depression,” she adds.
Of course, recognizing its symptoms is only a first step in banning business burnout. Once you become aware of the symptoms, it’s crucial to take steps to rid yourself of them.
2. Schedule a weekly personal check-in
“Take 5-10 minutes at the same time every week for a gut check,” says Joellyn Sargent, c.e.o. of the Claravon Group. “How do you feel about life? Are you accomplishing what you planned? Are you behind and never able to catch up? Do things you used to love fail to excite you?
“If things look dark and gloomy, you could be on the edges of burnout. You need to step back for some perspective. Think about how you can refocus on your priorities, what you might stop doing or could delegate to someone else in order to free up energy and keep yourself on track towards your goals.”
3. Give yourself and technology a rest
“Unplug from technology. When the clock strikes 10 p.m.—or whatever time you have for closing down shop, turn off all your technology,” says Nagel. “Your body and mind need time to renew after a day of demanding work. Give yourself time to rejuvenate your decision-making muscle.”
Before the era of smartphones, leaving your work at the business was only natural; taking your work home with you required a conscious effort to do so. Not so today. With almost everyone owning a smartphone, we’re all carrying around an office in our pocket. That’s why you should determine to limit or eliminate your use of this technology after working hours. Turn off that smartphone completely after 8 p.m.
According to Nagel, burnout is completely avoidable, with proper use of the latest advancements in technology. “Used correctly,” she says, “technology makes your workday more productive and efficient. You’re going to be in business for a long time. It’s up to you to make business burnout a thing of the past.”
4. Stop trying to do everything at once
It’s only natural: as a skilled professional you think you know it all, and you think you can do it all at the same time. But you can’t, so you need to stop trying.
“Once the sought-after skill of the 80’s and 90’s, researchers are now finding that multitasking is not all that it’s cracked up to be,” Nagel points out. “Although walking and chewing gum is still an acceptable form of multitasking (it’s automatic), responding to email while talking on the phone adds to inefficiency. Plus, it’s just plain embarrassing when you’re asked a question and you’re unable to respond appropriately because your attention is divided.”
5. Change your routine
“Nothing’s more exhausting than monotony,” says Adelaide Lancaster, writing in Entrepreneur Magazine. “If your work looks the same each and every day, you’re sure to tire quickly. Change your routine with some rejuvenating work-related tasks such as reading, taking a field trip or meeting with a food business colleague. The list and the laptop can wait until later.”
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6. Get (and stay) active and healthy
An important part of avoiding burnout is a constant awareness of its often “invisible” symptoms.
Sargent agrees. “Burnout can easily manifest itself in an extra hour of TV, a skipped workout, cancelled social plans and another glass of wine.
“If you notice these habits creeping in, force yourself to talk a walk, play with a dog or simply stretch. Just do something that requires you to physically move and is not work-related. Even a short, active break like a 10-minute walk can do wonders for your mindset. Go shopping, stop at the park and watch a rec ball game, or do something you used to enjoy but haven't done in years. The enjoyment you find in these small steps can spark motivation to do more and take better care of yourself.”
“Always remember that you are the primary breadwinner for your family,” says Nagel. “That’s why your ability to keep yourself healthy is crucial.
“And remember that recess isn’t just for kids. Take frequent breaks throughout the day; that will refresh your creativity and reboot your brain.”
7. Stop trying to do it all yourself
“If you want something done right, do it yourself.” You’ve heard that old chestnut many times, maybe even said it yourself. But that’s a philosophy that can help hasten your journey down the road to burnout.
“Failing to understand the importance of delegating is one of the most common and harmful mistakes made by stressed out business owners,” says entrepreneur and consultant Phil Wilkins. “You must stick to what you do best and leave the rest to others.” Even if yours is a relatively small operation, it’s important to learn how to trust others with those tasks that do not demand your personal involvement.
Nagel agrees. “Business owners are notorious for ‘doing it all.’ Hand over suitable tasks to skilled employees or vendors that support your objectives. That will free your own vision and creativity.”
8. Stop being a perfectionist
At the very core of restaurant experience and training is the concept of doing things right. It’s only natural, then, to lean toward perfectionism in your work. If the words “good enough” make you cringe, you may be showing early signs of what some psychologists call an epidemic of perfectionist tendencies.
“When people care deeply about their work, they sometimes just don’t know when to stop,” says Claudia Kaiser, owner of NextStageHome.com.
It’s important to understand that “perfect” doesn’t exist. Train yourself to understand that “good enough” often is good enough. And don’t allow your employees to feel that you are never satisfied no matter how hard they try.
9. Listen for feedback
“What are people around you saying? If you hear increasing complaints or experience growing friction with loved ones, employees or even customers, there’s a good chance it’s you, not them,” says Sargent. “Reflect on what you’re hearing. If there is a common theme, it may be because your attention or focus is lacking. If so, determine why that's the case and try to become more present. You may need to stop multitasking, unwind early to get a good night’s sleep or take a day off if you haven’t had one in a while. That may seem hard to do, but the world really won’t stop if you take a long weekend.”
10. Make sure it’s really burnout
If none of these suggestions seem to help, you may be dealing with something more serious than burnout. If you’re experiencing some of the symptoms but still feel that your work is being accomplished properly, then it’s probably just a matter of burnout for you to deal with. But if you’re suffering from feelings of despair and hopelessness, you should consider the possibility that you need professional help.
Short of a more serious problem, burnout is a burden that can be dealt with and relieved. While following these suggestions cannot guarantee complete success, it almost certainly will help.