By Brendan Fraser
The Australian Principal Occupational Health and Wellbeing Survey is one of the most comprehensive longitudinal data sets of school leader and wellbeing in the world.
The 2021 survey demonstrated that Australian school leaders exhibited many strengths, however, psychological ill-health rates of school leaders remain a concern.
Although school leaders continue to turn up and demonstrate commitment to their students, staff, school and school community, they are at an increased risk of burnout. As a school leader, I was always interested in the nature of the role and the impact it has on wellbeing. In my current role working with school leaders, I am more curious about burnout and its impact.
Burnout is the mental state that comes with long-term, unresolved stress that negatively affects your work and life. It can affect anyone, at any time in their lives and the symptoms of this ‘emotional exhaustion syndrome’ differ from person to person.
There are five stages of burnout:
1. Honeymoon Phase
- sustained and increased energy levels
- going beyond limits to prove yourself at work
- dismissing problems and stressors
The Honeymoon phase is relevant when beginning a new role or when participating in new job tasks. While you are enthusiastic, committed and productive, you should take cognisance of early signs of poor mental health and implement consistent wellbeing strategies into your working routine.
2. Stress Onset
- Feeling anxious
- Neglect of self-care
You start noticing that some days are more stressful than others and may be neglecting self-care duties to keep up with your stressful workload and schedule. You may brush the stress off, however, it is important to be aware of where your stress is at. You need to effectively manage your stress.
3. Chronic Stress
- Anger or aggressive behaviour
- Lower productivity and higher procrastination levels
- Increased food/alcohol/caffeine consumption
In the stage of Chronic Stress you experience high-stress levels. Consequentially, your performance is impacted and you start feeling out of control, resulting in procrastination and sometimes a sense of incompetence and failure.
- Complete neglect of personal needs
- Chronic headaches and other physical symptoms
- Social isolation
- Feelings of emptiness and lack of motivation
Neglecting previous stages and symptoms can result in this stage. The consequence may be critical exhaustion making it difficult to cope with work demands. This stage is where your results are mostly impacted, and your employer may notice change in your health, behaviour and performance.
5. Habitual Burnout
- Chronic low mood and anxiety
- Chronic mental and physical fatigue
- Complete social isolation
Habitual Burnout occurs when you fail to recover from burnout and the symptoms become an integral part of your life. If you reach this stage, you may require external support to assist you to overcome the burnout symptoms and work to recovery.