Prioritising You. Avoiding Practitioner Burn Out in 2021


Gillian Kelly is Head of Talent Marketing at Outplacement Australia, and The Career Agency where she works with people from organisations across Australia assisting them to move forward with confidence during career transition. Gillian was a 2020 recipient of the CDAA Awards for Excellence in Practice for the Qld Division. She is a professional Career Coach, Personal Branding Strategist, and award-winning Master Resume Writer.

One of the best features of our amazing industry is our ability to give. We share our knowledge, our energy, our time and our hearts. Helping is what we do.

In fact, we celebrate it - how far above and beyond we go to help our clients. 

  • How we worked late to help someone with an urgent job application. 
  • How we relented and squeezed in that extra client meeting into our already crazily packed week. 
  • How we spoke with a client late at night or on weekends to accommodate them afterhours.

It’s easy to rationalise that extra time. 

 A little extra help from us can make a big difference in someone else’s life, right? 

I can’t count how many times I’ve heard those words.  I’ve certainly used them myself when justifying to my team why I took on way more than my schedule or sanity could bear.

But doing too much comes at a cost. 

Sometimes that’s your lunch break. Sometimes it’s time with your family. Sometimes it’s your personal energy reserves. At its worst it can be your health.

Helping others takes energy. 

A little extra workload when it happens occasionally is bearable. But too much can result in exhaustion and even ultimately lead to the more serious occupational phenomenon of burnout

The big warning signs of burnout according to the WHO are exhaustion; greater mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and reduced professional efficacy.

Helping others with their career, particularly careers that may be in crisis, takes significant emotional energy. You need to be “up” and “on” constantly. Last year demanded even more of this than normal for most career practitioners. 

Unprecedented numbers of people lost jobs. Others worked under enormous stress and risk, particularly our frontline workers. People were scared. Some were angry. There was frightening uncertainty. The sense of pressure for career practitioners to help jobseekers was intense - all while changing how we operate, learning new tools and juggling our own crazy family lives. 

“We are the lucky ones here in Australia” I heard said so often. And we are. But that still doesn’t shield us from the effects of an emotionally demanding year.

In normal years, we recharge. 2020 was far from normal.

As career practitioners, most of us have our own self-care routines to keep us on an even keel.  We have rituals to restore and recalibrate, but in lockdown a lot of our tools of self-care weren’t as readily available. 

The holidays we normally counted on to reenergise were cancelled. The workplace was harder to escape when it was just at the end of the hall. The gym we normally attended was closed. 

2021 probably won’t be normal either.  

A holiday break and a new year means you should be bounding with energy and full of excitement about the year ahead, right? It always has for me. 

Except this year I just didn’t feel it. 

When it came time to sit back at my desk in January I was expecting to feel that familiar spark of excitement for the year ahead. What I felt instead was tired. Like a lot of people, the New Year in my head was a fresh start when things would get back to normal, but the challenges of COVID were still there when I returned. 

I certainly wasn’t the only one who was feeling it. Low energy seemed to be affecting a lot of people in Australia this January, particularly jobseekers returning to the work of finding a job. It didn’t take me long to work out good intentions and caffeine won’t be enough to power me through this year. 

Passion isn’t my antidote - conscious self-care is.

Last year I had a wake up call that I had been going too hard and the trip to the hospital was the price I paid for ignoring the increasing signs my body was giving me. This year I’m taking notice, and even more importantly, I’m taking action. 2021 is going to demand it. 

I’ve changed my mind-set to reframe self-care, not as an indulgence for afterhours, but one of my normal daily work tasks.  

For me that includes starting my workday with exercise or yoga and swapping caffeine at my desk for lunch with my husband and golden retrievers. I’m going to take mental health days as a preventative measure rather than wait until my body makes me take them forcibly. I’m also going to try and let go of things not needed – physical and emotional to make room for the things that matter. 

My 2021 wishes for you in the year ahead. 

What I wish for my industry friends is health, happiness and well-being. I hope your work brings you joy and adds positively to your life equation.

I’m not a psychologist, and anyone who knows me will tell you ‘saying no’ and ‘work life balance’ don’t come easily to me, so I’m not going to try to tell anyone what you should do for your own self-care. In fact, if anyone wants to throw my own advice back at me during the year when I’m slipping, (and I will slip) - I’d appreciate it. 

All I know is ultimately it comes down to making your mental and physical health priority one. After all, without these we won’t help anyone.