How to avoid burnout in creative roles

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    • 8th November 2019

    We all want to work in a job that really fulfils us, but it's very easy to feel exhausted and demoralised by the work instead. This can turn into burnout, and it's a serious problem for people who suffer from it.

    Employers and employees alike should do all they can to avoid burnout. Research from Gallup shows that burned-out employees are much more likely to take a sick day, or actively looking for a new job. Even if they stay, burned-out employees have less confidence in their abilities, and they’re half as likely to discuss performance goals with their manager.

    The creative industry’s long hours, looming clients and the pressure of coming up with ideas on command means its employees are highly susceptible to burnout. This problem is compounded if you’re in a work culture that discourages asking for help.

    At Gloss, we want both our agency clients and talented candidates to thrive in burnout-free jobs. At the same time, we know this is often easier said than done. In this article we’ll define burnout a little more precisely, help you spot the signs and suggest some ways you can beat the burnout in your own workplace.

    What is burnout?

    Burnout is a gradual process that leaves you unable to function properly. It’s something that creeps up on sufferers, with subtle symptoms that become worse over time. At its most extreme, burnout leaves you feeling exhausted, empty and unable to cope with life’s demands.

    The workplace is a frequent cause of burnout, since burnout is typically caused by prolonged or chronic job stress. It manifests in three things—exhaustion, cynicism (or less identification with the job) and the feeling you don’t have the right abilities. Crucially, anyone who feels overworked and undervalued is at risk of burnout.

    Stress or burnout?

    It’s easy to mistake stress for burnout, but the two are quite different. We characterise stress by over-engagement; our emotions are overreactive, and we often feel like we’re drowning in responsibilities. In contrast, we characterise burnout by disengagement; our emotions are blunted, and we can’t bring ourselves to care about our responsibilities.

    Furthermore, stressed people are usually aware of the fact. People suffering from burnout may not be aware of it. Instead, they might be unable to shake the sense there’s no hope of positive change in their lives.

    Signs of burnout

    person holding pencil over a blank page
    Consistently producing work is more difficult with burnout.

    We know that burnout is a big problem in creative careers. According to Design Week, a number of factors make creative professionals vulnerable to burnout. These include a lack of career stability, low self-confidence and poor pay, among others.

    There are several other work-related causes of burnout. These include:

    1. Feeling like you have little or no control over your work

    2. Lack of recognition or reward for good work

    3. Unclear or overly demanding job expectations

    4. Doing work that’s monotonous or unchallenging

    5. Working in a chaotic or high-pressure environment

    Burnout manifests in a range of outward symptoms, including:

    1. Withdrawing from responsibilities

    2. Isolating yourself from others

    3. Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done

    4. Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope

    5. Taking out your frustrations on others

    6. Skipping work or coming in late and leaving early

    How burnout impacts your creative brilliance

    drawing of a light bulb with pencil and eraser
    Don’t let burnout stifle your ideas

    In 2008 Harvard University published a paper on the biological underpinnings of depression, and how its physiological roots relate to creativity. The research showed participants with higher levels of creativity tended to be more emotionally open. However, it also meant they had a higher chance of experiencing intense negative emotion.

    Burnout is a problem for professionals in any field. But since it has a big impact on creativity, it means creative professionals can find overcoming it very complex. They might struggle to concentrate, and find themselves lacking in creativity. Burnout affects everyday tasks at work, whether this work is at home or in a conventional office environment.

    How to avoid burnout in creative jobs

    While it’s important to work in a role you can thrive in, we’ve identified some steps you can take to avoid burnout.

    stressed man sitting at laptop
    Burnout can creep up on you without you even realising it.

    1. Recognise the signs

    We know stress and burnout can feel similar, making this a tricky step. If you aren’t sure which one you’re feeling, ask yourself if you’re withdrawing from colleagues, friends and family. You should also consider if your emotions are muted, rather than heightened.

    Whether you’re worried about burnout—or you’re in its early stages—make sure you speak to a professional about your feelings. Avoid letting it progress without seeking help, and always remember you’re not alone. There are people who can help, and they’re here for you.

    2. Take the first step to change

    You might conclude your job is the root cause of your burnout… though this can be tricky if you’re in the thick of it. In any case, contacting a specialist recruiter is a great way to find a burnout-free job.

    If you do choose to go down this route, keep in mind recruiters aren’t a substitute for professional mental help. They’re a companion towards making positive change.

    3. Take care of your physical and mental health

    Besides finding a suitable work environment, you need to make time for your physical and mental health. Try to set aside an hour of “me time” every day. It might seem like an unrealistic goal, but it can have a significant, positive impact on your mood and your relationships.

    Forbes has a “best living” routine that can be very helpful. This is especially useful if changing jobs isn’t practical right now. In essence, the routine has you divide your day into several chunks, before deciding what you want to do (or not do) within them. This helps you better identify what tasks contribute to your best life.

    4. Take care of your creative spirit

    illuminated numbers
    It’s important that you make time for yourself, regardless of your career.

    We recommend making time once a week for a creative project that’s just for you. It’s not something you need to share with other people; it doesn’t even need to be sensible. It just needs to be fun, and unconcerned with limits, rules or productivity.

    5. Reconnect with others

    You can relieve feelings of isolation and misunderstanding by reaching out to a friend or colleague. However, this might be difficult, especially if you’re the only creative in your organisation.

    Therefore, another way to avoid burnout is to network with other creative professionals. Doing this face-to-face is best, but even sharing some ideas and feelings in an online group can help you feel connected.

    6. Heal and self-soothe with music

    According to Help Musicians UK, music is one of our most accessible and universal creative outlets. It can also have a significant impact on our mood—something worth considering if you’re feeling down at the moment.

    Valorie Salimpoor, a Toronto-based researcher, published a research paper in 2011. It revealed that during intense moments of listening to pleasurable music our brains release dopamine, a chemical that transmits messages between brain cells. In addition to other functions, our brains release dopamine when we expect or receive a reward.

    This means that listening to your favourite music at the start of the day can improve your mood throughout it. Similarly, singing music in a choir or similar setting can strengthen your feelings of community, which burnout strips away. These activities aren’t a substitute for professional help, of course, but they can help improve your outlook in the short term.


    Mind Your Steps

    person standing in front of cracked pavement
    Don’t fall apart; take steps towards a healthier working life!

    While burnout is a serious problem in our industry, it’s not an insurmountable obstacle. If you want to avoid burnout, the key is to identify whether you’re burned out—along with the causes of your unhappiness—and how best to alleviate it. Never take professional help off the table as an option, and make sure you talk to the people around you when you can.

    As a creative recruitment agency we touch upon many different topics in the creative sector, including how to find creative jobs and the intricacies of Leeds’ creative agency landscape. To make sure you never have to endure FOMO, you can get all our latest articles sent directly to your inbox by subscribing to our newsletter!

    Visit our homepage or Contact Us page if you’d like to subscribe. If you’re thinking of changing jobs, don’t be afraid to send us your CV, either! As specialists in creative recruitment, we understand that finding a new job is often an antidote to burnout. That’s why we’ll actively support you, and make sure you take the right career steps rather than rushing a key decision.