The coach answers: this is how we don't burn out!

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Dia Kontra has been a permanent coach at Progressive for almost two years. She spends two days a week in the office and her door is open to everyone from juniors to board members. Dia talked about what burnout means from an expert's point of view, what can be done about it, how to slice a mammoth, and her words will be understood by anyone who has worked at an agency.


Progressive: What is burnout? Something that happens quickly or is it a process?

Dia: Burnout is basically a chronic emotional strain, a stress, which can have symptoms of physical and emotional exhaustion. You feel like you have no hope, no goals, you're not good at your job, you make only mistakes, and finally you find no joy in almost anything. This does not happen to us overnight; it is a long process. It has several cycles, which present different symptoms.


PRG: At advertising agencies what does burnout look like?

Dia: It's the same as anywhere else, but here it's particularly common for agency colleagues to throw themselves into the work with great vehemence. It's easy to really love this job, and this is why they are more prone to burnout. They feel that the failure of their work is also a failure of their personality because of the commitment and energy they put in. It's nice to sleep in at work, they're my family, right?! This is the first phase of burnout, phase of hopes.


PRG: That sounds quite good. What comes after that?

Dia: Either the love of the work phase or the frustration phase. During the previous, you are able to develop a healthy work-life balance, you can put aside your need to prove yourself all the time and put your own needs and joy in life first. Love becomes a commitment, a more composed form. In contrast, frustration can make you feel numb and out of control. You often anxious about trying to avoid losing control, while your performance deteriorates, your time balance is upset, you develop physical symptoms, you don't socialise, you feel guilty all the time, you may become aggressive and you feel that every move is aimless. This is followed by a phase of apathy, where there is complete withdrawal. This state can take over your whole life, so it is not worth delaying in asking for help.


PRG: Thanks, untie this now because I'm getting anxious and my blood pressure is going up.

Dia: (laughs) Burnout is directly related to motivation. To do that, you have to always be in the phase of progress, which means you have to keep in mind the goals you're working towards every day. You can't get stuck in one position, the wrong attitude, the constant grinding and have a lot of plates spinning. You have to stop to celebrate and to complete projects. These three basic needs strongly influence our motivation. These are the need to belong somewhere, the sense of autonomy and the sense of competence, i.e. feeling that I am good at my job and I can improve. If one of these is compromised, there is a good chance that you can become unmotivated in the long run. You don't burn out right away, but it becomes a long-term problem.


PRG: Can the company help you with that?

Dia: Absolutely! You can go over the points that are causing you difficulties with the manager or with the coach (at Progressive). Overload at work can be reviewed, or just the workload outside the agency: personally, I don't believe you can leave your personal life outside the door. It can easily bring problems inside. That's why you have to look at and ask how your colleague relaxes. Such a conversation may reveal, for example, that you have not been anywhere outside the home and work for weeks and do not even notice it. And that can be a symptom.


PRG: And what can places do where they don’t have their own coach?

Dia: Feedback is very important. An evaluation (every four months in Progressive's case) can also help a lot with feedback, because from that you can feel that there is a sense of purpose, that there is progress. You feel autonomy, progress and appreciation.


PRG: Was it easy for your colleagues to get used to having a coach digging into their lives?

Dia: I try to create a trusting environment where people can open up and feel comfortable talking about themselves and their difficulties.

We already have established this culture, which is driven by the mindset of the management that people are important. We often hear in workplaces that the colleagues don't get feedback, neither good nor bad. In contrast, I often see actually that people are not always able to take feedback. What if you can't take praise because you've never been praised? But you can ask for feedback and you earn it. I can help the with that, because I bring valid info and examples inside from the organisation. For example, when I told a manager in a one-on-one meeting that one of his colleague thought he had given a fantastic presentation, he realised that, contrary to his previous opinion, he did need feedback.


PRG: What can you do about burnout?

Dia: Prevention is essential, and self-awareness is part of that. You have to be aware of what interests you, what drives you, what you can really immerse yourself in, live yourself in. Self-awareness is also necessary, for example, when choosing a profession. If it does not meet your real needs, you will not get the results you want. You have to ask yourself, are you doing what you love? Are these really your goals? Or are they family and social expectations? This could be the situation being born into a dynasty of lawyers or doctors. It could also be a social reason to choose a job in an agency, for example, because it is traditionally seen as cool, creative and free.


PRG: Is it easy to to be precise with your goals? Isn't it enough to earn money and be a part of a community?

Dia: Goals are very important, and problems often come from not really having goals. And without that, we start to drift, our days get harder and harder because we don't have a clear direction and we can't get off the merry-go-round. A coach is a great way to help us to set achievable goals that motivate us.


PRG: How should you start to change?

Dia: The first step is always to identify the problem. Sometimes this is not easy either, for example, if I bring the pattern from home that I have to die for work. After that, it's worth looking at my areas of life and identifying where I experience the greatest lack of success. To do this, I need to ‘slice the mammoth', i.e. break down the big black cloud above me into smaller parts. In the early stages, shifting my work-life balance can help, and give me some breathing space to think better about my next steps. If I feel I can't manage on my own, I should ask for help. The sooner the better! Coach, psychologist, whoever feels comfortable. The first session in itself will give you a boost. The fact that you have done something for yourself can be motivating in itself. Often just a few sessions are enough to get you back on track a little.

So let someone help you to that certain ladder that you can climb, step by step, to look at your live from a higher perspective, to see the possibilities that will give you new momentum, new goals, and a zest for life and energy in your daily live.




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