There’s power in knowing when to bow out

A real one: Ardern is the latest high-achieving woman to say she’s quitting due to burnout, but her resignation sets one last good example. – AFP

JACINDA Ardern could have done anything with her life. In one universe, maybe she’s a rapper. In another, she stars in Lord of the Rings. But in our universe, she is the Prime Minister of New Zealand. And she became a mother while doing it.

Throughout, she has navigated chaos with composure.

Her management style? Effortless. Her takedowns? Epic. Her policies? Effective. In a world full of populist pols who are often racist, sexist and/or homophobic, Ardern has been an outlier. So her announcement that she doesn’t have enough gas in the tank to run for a third term in office is disappointing.

It “underscores the challenges of achieving diversity in politics and business. It’s not just about getting women there, but keeping them,” Bloomberg columnist Andreea Papuc writes.

ALSO READ: Jacinda Ardern gives the world a lesson in humility

For female leaders, being able to withstand underhanded compliments and sexist jabs is practically a job requirement at this point. Not many women are interested in joining what another Bloomberg columnist, Beth Kowitt, calls “an impenetrable boys’ club.”

It’s hard to blame them. On top of the misogyny, Ardern and her family faced relentless threats of violence. She handled the pandemic with skill, only to become a lightning rod for anti-vaccination groups.

In this file photo taken on June 24, 2018, Ardern and partner Clarke Gayford pose with their baby daugther Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford outside the hospital in Auckland. – AFPIn this file photo taken on June 24, 2018, Ardern and partner Clarke Gayford pose with their baby daugther Neve Te Aroha Ardern Gayford outside the hospital in Auckland. – AFP

Becoming one of the world’s youngest female leaders at 37 made Ardern an international superstar. But her time in office was an even greater achievement, setting high standards for handling everything from guns to child poverty. And her resignation speech delivered a crucial message: Even role models are susceptible to burnout, and it’s nothing to be ashamed about.

As Kowitt writes, “Adjusting your ambitions because the old ones don’t work with the life you want for yourself is the ultimate power flex.”

Ardern giving her victory speech to Labour Party members at an event in Auckland in 2020. – APArdern giving her victory speech to Labour Party members at an event in Auckland in 2020. – AP

According to Mayo Clinic, job burnout is a special type of work-related stress – a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.

“Burnout” isn’t a medical diagnosis. Some experts think that other conditions, such as depression, are behind burnout. Researchers point out that individual factors, such as personality traits and family life, influence who experiences job burnout.

Ardern announcing her resignation at a press conference in Wellington on Jan 19. – APArdern announcing her resignation at a press conference in Wellington on Jan 19. – AP

Whatever the cause, job burnout can affect your physical and mental health. Consider how to know if you’ve got job burnout and what you can do about it. Here are some pointers from Mayo Clinic:

Job burnout symptoms

Ask yourself:

– Have you become cynical or critical at work?

– Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?

– Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?

– Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?

– Do you find it hard to concentrate?

– Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?

– Do you feel disillusioned about your job?

– Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?

– Have your sleep habits changed?

– Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, you might be experiencing job burnout. Consider talking to a doctor or a mental health provider because these symptoms can also be related to health conditions, such as depression.

Possible causes of job burnout

Job burnout can result from various factors, including:

– Lack of control. An inability to influence decisions that affect your job -- such as your schedule, assignments or workload – could lead to job burnout. So could a lack of the resources you need to do your work.

– Unclear job expectations. If you’re unclear about the degree of authority you have or what your supervisor or others expect from you, you’re not likely to feel comfortable at work.

– Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. Perhaps you work with an office bully, or you feel undermined by colleagues or your boss micromanages your work. This can contribute to job stress.

– Extremes of activity. When a job is monotonous or chaotic, you need constant energy to remain focused -- which can lead to fatigue and job burnout.

– Lack of social support. If you feel isolated at work and in your personal life, you might feel more stressed.

– Work-life imbalance. If your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you don’t have the energy to spend time with your family and friends, you might burn out quickly.

Job burnout risk factors

The following factors may contribute to job burnout:

– You have a heavy workload and work long hours

– You struggle with work-life balance

– You work in a helping profession, such as health care

– You feel you have little or no control over your work

Consequences of job burnout

Ignored or unaddressed job burnout can have significant consequences, including:

– Excessive stress

– Fatigue

– Insomnia

– Sadness, anger or irritability

– Alcohol or substance misuse

– Heart disease

– High blood pressure

– Type 2 diabetes

– Vulnerability to illnesses

Handling job burnout

Try to take action. To get started:

– Evaluate your options. Discuss specific concerns with your supervisor. Maybe you can work together to change expectations or reach compromises or solutions. Try to set goals for what must get done and what can wait.

– Seek support. Whether you reach out to co-workers, friends or loved ones, support and collaboration might help you cope. If you have access to an employee assistance program, take advantage of relevant services.

– Try a relaxing activity. Explore programs that can help with stress such as yoga, meditation or tai chi.

– Get some exercise. Regular physical activity can help you to better deal with stress. It can also take your mind off work.Get some sleep. Sleep restores well-being and helps protect your health.

– Mindfulness. Mindfulness is the act of focusing on your breath flow and being intensely aware of what you’re sensing and feeling at every moment, without interpretation or judgment. In a job setting, this practice involves facing situations with openness and patience, and without judgment.

– Keep an open mind as you consider the options. Try not to let a demanding or unrewarding job undermine your health. – Agencies

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