Burnout - The hidden cost of the skills shortage

An auto technician working on a vehicle engine in a workshop.

If the State of the Nation Special Report: The Skills Shortage makes one thing clear, it’s that the skills shortage isn’t just taking a toll on business operations and finances, it’s also impacting Members’ work-life balance, stress levels, relationships and mental health.

Members reported a range of effects, including feeling overworked, not enjoying work anymore, sacrificing family time and not being able to take a holiday. What is the overarching thread that ties all of these responses together? The skills shortage is contributing to more Members experiencing burnout. Looking after your mental health is every bit as important as looking after your balance sheet. If you’re feeling burnt out, don’t ignore it.

The good news is that burnout is very manageable if you spot the signs early and take positive, meaningful action. In this article, we’ll look at:

  • How to spot the signs of burnout.

  • Strategies for managing burnout.

  • Taking care of others.

Burnout could look like:

  • Feeling isolated, trapped or helpless.

  • Irritability and cynicism.

  • A lack of your usual energy or motivation.

  • A feeling of failure or self-doubt.

  • Feeling less satisfied with work.

  • Feeling exhausted or drained.

  • Procrastinating.

  • Disengaging from work you used to value.

  • Not sleeping or eating as well as you used to.

  • Feeling alone, withdrawing or isolating socially.

  • Headaches, body pain, muscle pain , excessive sweating.

  • Fatigue.

  • Outbursts.

  • Panic attacks, shortness of breath.

  • Getting sick a lot.

  • Using substances (including alcohol) to cope.

  • Finding it hard to function at all.

If this sounds familiar, it’s important to do something about it - especially if you’ve been experiencing these symptoms for an extended period of time.

Strategies for managing burnout

Recognising the warning signs of burnout is just the first step. It's important to take action, as the situation is unlikely to resolve itself without making changes.

1. Identify the sources of your burnout

When you’re feeling burnt out, the stress can feel overwhelming. Break it down, so you can tackle it more easily.

  • Write a physical list of all the areas where your stress is coming from.

  • Prioritise the most urgent and important issues you need to deal with.

  • Get onto any easy wins promptly (e.g., delegating or outsourcing tasks).

2. Get support if you need it

Don’t be too proud to seek support. It’s helpful to talk about what you’re going through, rather than bottling it up.

  • Talk to friends, family or colleagues.

  • Chat with expert community-based services, like Lifeline counsellors (more services are listed below).

  • Talk to your GP.

3. Re-evaluate your priorities

Think about what really matters to you and write a list. Chances are it will involve things that aren’t work-related, like spending time with your kids or your partner.

  • Do your best to restructure the way you operate so that you can make these things the priority they deserve to be.

  • Set firm boundaries: Don’t let work creep into the time you’ve dedicated to these priorities (don’t miss your kid’s netball game to do paperwork).

We understand that these things are easier said than done, but if your current routine isn’t serving you, then it’s important to take stock and look at ways that you can make a positive change.

4. Step away from the business

When we’re under pressure in business, there’s a tendency to work longer hours and take less time off. Yet, being overworked will ultimately make us less productive and lead to burnout.

To work effectively and to be your best, you need to recharge your batteries.

  • Take small breaks during the day (put them in the calendar and don’t skip them).

  • Book and take your holidays (if that means shutting the workshop doors for a week or two, do itprovided that it’s financially possible for you to do so).

  • Reconfigure your working week. Can you be just as productive or profitable working a four-day week? You might be surprised!

5. Look at your lifestyle

If you’re feeling burnt out, chances are you’re not sleeping or eating well, or getting enough exercise. Yet good nutrition, getting enough sleep, and doing a bit of physical activity every day are all essentials for healthy living-not just for our physical health but our mental health as well.

Chances are you don’t need to radically alter your lifestyle. Making a few positive lifestyle changes can really add up and contribute to a healthier and happier outlook.

Stronger with each other

Capricorn’s philosophy is that we’re stronger when we work together. It refers, of course, to the power of the cooperative, but it’s also relevant in the context of burnout. We can all play a role in supporting each other.

  • Check on your friends in the industry if you know they’re struggling.

  • Open the burnout conversation with others and help them access support if they need it.

  • Talk to your staff. If you’re burnt out, they may well be, too. Ensure they have access to support.



New Zealand

  • Mental Health Foundation free call or text 1737 any time

  • Lifeline0800 543 354 or free text 4357.

  • Samaritans0800 726 666

  • Suicide Crisis Helpline0508 828 865

  • Healthline0800 611 116

You can read the State of the Nation Special Report: The Skills Shortage at cap.coop/son-skills

This article was published 14/12/2023 and the content is current as at the date of publication.