How to avoid burnout: Expert advice for tradespeople

How to avoid burnout: Expert advice for tradespeople

23rd February 2023

How to avoid burnout: Expert advice for tradespeople

A life in the trades rarely involves consistent 9-5 shifts, with demand for your services likely to ebb and flow throughout the year.

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However, it’s important that even when your workload is high, you continue to take breaks and don’t overdo things, otherwise it could lead to burnout.

Our recent survey of UK tradespeople found that more than two in five (43%) regularly work longer than 8-hour days, almost a fifth (18%) usually work over five days a week, and over a quarter (27%) even work when feeling unwell.

The cost-of-living crisis is only making the situation worse, with almost two fifths (39%) of workers saying that they’re now putting in even longer hours.

To help tradespeople avoid burning out, and explain the importance of managing workload, we’ve partnered with Liz Sebag-Montefiore, director and co-founder of HR consultancy 10Eighty, to share some expert advice.


What is burnout? What does it feel like?

Liz says: “With burnout, some will be depressed, lethargic and lack motivation, while others will find it difficult to slow down, hard to focus and struggle with priorities.

“Burnout is a state of mental, emotional and physical exhaustion resulting from ongoing or repeated stress. The main characteristic of a burnout is that the person feels that they are not in control of how a job is carried out, nor in control of their workload and autonomy, and this compromises their sense of self.”


What are the potential consequences of doing too much work?

Liz says: “There are risks to physical as well as mental health. Overworking affects cortisol levels (the primary stress hormone) which can lead to brain fog, high blood pressure and other health problems.

“Fatigue, apathy, depression and dissatisfaction and a whole host of other symptoms can make it difficult to see for what it is.”

“Burnout can also lead to slip ups, mistakes and accidents which could be serious for the tradesperson, their client, colleagues and employer.”


How can you avoid or recover from burnout?

Liz says: “Even the most committed employee who enjoys their work will find that long hours of intense work can lead to serious repercussions - stress, burnout, absenteeism, decreased job satisfaction and poor physical health.

“When they feel that they have little in the way of resources to manage their situation, it can lead to the feeling of being ‘burned out’. They need to regain control, motivation and commitment to the job but that’s easier said than done.

"Try to pace yourself and reward yourself for what you can do. You could try mindfulness to relax and reconnect with self, purpose and wellbeing.

“Take a hard look at your priorities. Get clarity on what really matters. Is there a real deadline? Is it urgent because of who is asking for it? Will it impact productivity or profitability? Where can you adjust, what can you decline, who can help?

“Take breaks from work. Be sure to use any annual leave and leave work behind when you’re off - don’t work in your downtime! Try not to check work emails when you are off and say if you are not contactable.”


Why is it important to take breaks throughout the working day?

Liz says: “We need to be aware of the importance of recovery time in maintaining the wellbeing of employees. We should aim to formulate strategies that build in time for breaks from work and routine, with time for recovery activities, and policies and guidelines that address workflow, overtime and availability.

“Better work-life balance will make you more productive and healthier overall. It seems counter-intuitive but taking a break makes you more productive. You need to reset and recharge and reinvigorate from time to time.”


Why do you think so many tradespeople suffer from burnout?

Liz says: “There are skills shortages in many sectors, including the trades. The work is there to be done and it can be hard to turn down. It can also be difficult to refuse contracts and stay on good terms with employers and colleagues.”


Do you have any specific advice for self-employed workers?

Liz says: “Rethink priorities. Establish boundaries, make and stick to schedules that work for your whole life not just your working life.

“It’s hard to talk about burnout at work. It’s perceived as weakness, or lacking control, ambition or toughness, which makes it even harder for the self-employed. Friends and family may not understand the pressures and when people are relying on your income, it may feel like you are letting them down if you can’t cope. You have to be realistic about how much you can take on without damaging your health and future earning potential.”


What is the best way to speak to your manager if you think you have burnout?

Liz says: “Take some time to identify your concerns and make notes. Outline your concerns and any adjustments to your work that might help. Ask for support, ask for time if you need it. Burnout can lead to mistakes and accidents; nobody wants that to happen.

“A good manager puts workers first by understanding how they work and what they need to work well, then they focus on personalised interventions that maximize job satisfaction, high quality performance, and productivity. “


Overworked Trades

If you’re currently dealing with burnout, there are resources out there that can help you. If you’re concerned about the financial aspect of work, check out this blog on financial tips for electricians. For wider advice about mental health, visit our sister company IronmongeryDirect’s Mental Health in the Trades report.