Boundaries Can Mean Avoiding Burnout or Asking for a Promotion. Here's How to Do Both.

Posted by Amina AlTai on

 Burnout is at an all-time high. Indeed, the job aggregator, conducted a survey of 1500 employees across several categories and concluded that over half (52%) of survey respondents are experiencing burnout in 2021—up from the 43% in their pre-COVID survey.

For the first time, the World Health Organization (WHO) now recognizes burnout as a real workplace phenomenon. I characterize burnout as extreme stress to the point that our mind or our bodies give out or demonstrate extreme fatigue and resistance. This can manifest as lethargy that is so severe, that we’re unable to complete normal tasks. When we’re experiencing burnout, we may struggle to feel connected to workplace challenges because we simply don’t have enough energy or enthusiasm to move through them. Our brains and bodies become so exhausted that it impacts our ability to problem solve, be creative, and sometimes even get through the work week.

Burnout doesn’t just impact our work life, though. When we are so depleted to the point that we have difficulty carrying out everyday tasks, it can also wreak havoc on our home lives. I have many clients who were not only suffering in their careers but were carrying home that extreme exhaustion which intercepted their ability to show up fully for their loved ones as well.

How can we avoid it?

Take a break. According to a study conducted by the National Bureau of Economic Research, Americans lengthened their workday by one full hour during the pandemic. We also saw a rise in unused time off as up to 92% of Americans cancelled, postponed or didn’t book a vacation due to the global pandemic. We simply aren’t using our PTO but it’s vital to our physical and mental wellbeing that we take breaks to refresh our bodies, our minds and our perspectives.

Many of us feel like we can’t afford to fully disconnect and take a vacation. Even taking a summer Friday, an extended lunch break, or eating lunch away from your desk can help. I recommend a 90/10 rule for my clients. For every 90 minutes of focused activity, allow your brain and body 10 minutes to decompress and recuperate.

Get support. Many organizations offer career and wellness coaching as part of their employee perks. Ask your HR department what resources are in place to support your wellbeing and help you move through or avoid burnout.

Set boundaries. Oftentimes, we reach burnout because we’ve been doing too much for too long without any respite. Occasionally, that can be due to a lack of boundaries. If your managers consistently ask you to do more without the opportunity to pause and refill your metaphorical cup, it’s time to reinforce stronger boundaries. A lot of my coachees have suffered from burnout and have been afraid to advocate for better boundaries for fear that it will impact their growth trajectory at work. I believe we can’t afford not to have good boundaries, because if we burnout, and it expresses itself as illness or disease, that can be very challenging to recover from and impact us in an even bigger way. Stronger boundaries might not necessarily mean less work. But it might mean less work that is zapping your energy and keeping you away from the work you really want to do. Which brings me to my next point on self-advocacy.

We know, from the aforementioned data, that most of us are working harder than ever and some of us may feel ready to ask for a well-earned promotion. However, is the pandemic the right time to ask? I have met with countless coaching clients over the course of the last year asking themselves the same questions. The answer is a little complicated.

We want to bring the highest degree of consciousness to the conversation as this has been a challenging time for so many. We’ve seen lay-offs, furloughs and hiring freezes that have complicated the job marketing and promotion track—but that doesn’t diminish your contribution or mean it’s not time to ask for a promotion. I simply invite you to do so strategically and thoughtfully. When thinking about asking for a promotion, consider the overall company performance, your individual contribution and the timing.

Before you schedule your promotion conversation with your manager be prepared with data and business cases to support your rise in the company. Ask yourself, how is the company performing? Is the business viable from the information you can gather? If they’re downsizing, have a hiring freeze, or going through layoffs, you may want to pause your ask. If the company is performing well and growing, this could be a good time to make your case.

As you prepare for your conversation with your manager, ready your unique business case. Get clear on what you have contributed to the business over your tenure, and particularly during the challenges of the last eighteen months. How have you supported company growth, your coworkers, and cross-functional teams to be successful in this time. Outline both qualitative and quantitative examples, if you can.

Lastly, before you have your conversation, consider the timing. Most organizations follow promotion cycles that land at particular times in the calendar year. If you’re asking for an off-cycle promotion, gather any data from employee handbooks, past emails or HR to see if this is common practice. Having examples to point to of previous off-cycle promotions will only strengthen your case.

Now that you’ve done some of the prep work and are ready to make the ask, I invite you to follow the STARS format outlined below.

S—Set the context

As you’re scheduling this conversation with your manager, you’re going to want to give them context to the meeting. Very few people respond well to surprises, so you want to make sure they know what they’re walking into. Choose logistics thoughtfully so they feel comfortable and open. Before you walk into the meeting, check your own intentions. Are you intending to demand a promotion because you’re long overdue for one? Are you intending to demonstrate how wrong they were for passing over you in the last promotion cycle? You want to clear out any negativity before you go into the conversation, so it doesn’t cloud your ask.

T—Tell them your why

This is where you prove the business case for your promotion. Since you did prior research, you’ll have examples for how you added value to your work, your teams and the business overall. A promotion is often about alignment and leaving a space you’ve outgrown to develop your

abilities in a new space. Demonstrate what you’ve outgrown and what you can contribute to that new space and why this growth is so important for you and the business.

A—Ask with confidence

Be direct and clear about your ask. If your manager is unclear on what you’re really asking for, they can’t support you, so directness and transparency go a long way in conversations like these. Do not sidestep the tough stuff because you feel uncomfortable. Be direct, but kind and empathetic and make the ask with confidence. If you don’t feel confident in what you’re asking for, your manager will pick up on that. Remember your why as you make the ask to bolster your confidence.

R—Reinforce your why

Once you’ve made the ask, reinforce your why. I caution you not to overdo this, you’ve already made your case—you’re just underscoring why it’s in the best interest of everyone involved.

S—Send a follow up to emphasize your why and next steps

As you bring the conversation to a close, express gratitude for their time and how they have supported you. Agree on next steps and timing and then send a follow up email to reinforce the ask, the why, the timing and the next steps that have been agreed upon. Follow up as often as it makes sense to both of you. If there is no progress made, establish next steps.


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