For many workers, burnout is built on unconscious expectation

Jo Simpson, author of The Restless Executive, says burnout in the UAE is a big issue – compounded by workers feeling compelled to work long hours as their residency is linked to their work visa.
Author Jo Simpson says it is important to listen to one’s intuition. Satish Kumar / The National
Author Jo Simpson says it is important to listen to one’s intuition. Satish Kumar / The National

Burnout is compounded in the UAE by workers feeling compelled to overextend themselves, as their residency is linked to their work visa, says Jo Simpson, the author of The Restless Executive.

The executive leadership coach moved to Dubai in 2005 to set up a coaching college, Coaching and Mentoring Middle East. She relocated her business home to the United Kingdom five years later before writing her book, which was published in the summer. Her coaching clients include Barclays, Lloyds, Cisco, KPMG, Microsoft, Nokia and L’Oreal.

She believes the global recession has driven leaders of all levels to seek deeper meaning from their lives and careers, and that ultimately understanding our core values will bring happiness and fulfilment.

“Burnout is prevalent in a lot of countries,” she says. “In the UAE specifically, people are dealing with colleagues and clients on different time zones and there is a pace of growth and exciting opportunities that lend to this problem. For a lot of people, their work visas being linked to their residence visas puts an unconscious expectation in place to work long hours.”

Simpson, 48, also came close to burning out when she left the UAE.

“I had adrenal fatigue and the cortisol levels in my body – which protect it from stress – were almost non-existent,” she says. “I had to take almost a year out to rest. As well as moving back from Dubai, I had moved house a further six times in five years, set up my business and entered a new relationship. While exciting stuff, it all takes its toll.”

In a study of 1,000 employees, the US coaching company Corporate Balance Concepts said that 5 per cent of employees suffered from burnout, while a further 40 per cent suffered from brownout (a less severe and more demotivated state). And a study by the American recruitment site found that 42 per cent of respondents had left a job because it was too stressful and that workplace stress had caused illness for 61 per cent.

Consequently, many companies seeking to prevent burnout are focusing on their staff’s non-work life.

Simpson’s book, The Restless Executive, is a “modern fable” focusing on the fictional William Cleverley, who has worked his way to the top but now feels a sense of restlessness. Through his true-to-life story, she explores the issues facing many workers.

But she emphasises that restlessness is a good thing. “It’s your body and soul nudging you to listen,” she says. “People often say redundancy or a health scare turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to them but the signs were already there, your intuition was already telling you. It is highly important that people set boundaries and really spend time working out their core values – what lights us up and gives us our energy – and ignite them.”

Speaking at the Emirates Airline Festival of Literature in March, Simpson talks of a client, Jane, whose core value was adventure. “She realised she was not honouring that, but I asked how she could make work into an adventure. There was an amazing transition in her – a vibe, a ripple coming off her into the office.”

The author says it’s important to listen to your intuition. Her own led her to leave the UAE, against all odds. “It didn’t make any logical sense. I had a great lifestyle, my business was at its peak, with a year’s pipeline of work. But my intuition was so strong that I knew I had to trust it.”

In tackling her adrenal fatigue, Simpson had to “put a stake in the ground” and learn to say no, choosing to work only in the UK. “It hurt, but for three years I wouldn’t accept any more work in the Middle East or any international travel. It allowed me to grow and flourish. Now I am back in the UAE once a quarter to meet clients.”

Simpson says she realised she wasn’t playing “the bigger game”.

If you feel you’re getting close to burnout a move away from the UAE isn’t necessarily the answer, Ms Simpson says.

“The only way to change to a less burnt-out lifestyle is to consciously change habits and patterns – or you will just take the same version of yourself elsewhere.”

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Published: April 17, 2016 04:00 AM


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