How to Combat Burnout in the Fashion Industry
“I think burnout, unfortunately, is often celebrated as a good thing. You’re working so hard, that you’re working to your max is sometimes celebrated when it shouldn’t be.” – Karen Hartley
Exhaustion, dwindling motivation, and lacklustre performance—burnout is unfortunately a more than common feeling for many of us toiling away in the fashion industry. Notorious for its demanding and breakneck pace, the industry can be seen by some as a breeding ground for burnout. The culprits are plentiful, with a relentless pressure to churn out fresh and innovative designs, collections, and content, combined with unyielding deadlines and gruelling hours that require sacrificing personal well-being and time… against a highly competitive environment that fosters isolation and insecurity.
The consequences of burnout in the fashion industry can be catastrophic for both individuals and organisations. Creativity and work quality suffer, absenteeism and turnover rates soar, morale and engagement plummet.
According to the World Health Organisation, burnout manifests through three dimensions: feeling completely depleted of energy, harbouring a detached and cynical attitude toward your work, and grappling with feelings of incompetence or ineffectiveness. We spoke to Karen Hartley, who stands at a unique point between fashion and wellbeing, working as both a Psychotherapist and a Personal Assistant in the fashion industry, gaining insight into how we might prevent these exact feelings.
Take Time Off
An effective and seemingly straightforward tactic to prevent and recover from burnout is taking time off from work. This respite reduces stress, rekindles passion, and restores your energy. Research conducted by the Global Corporate Challenge unveiled that employees who take a minimum of 20 days of annual leave are more productive and less susceptible to burnout. Nevertheless, many fashion professionals find it arduous to tear themselves away from work, either due to guilt or resource constraints. To counter this, meticulous planning, open communication with managers and colleagues, and firm boundaries around work during vacations are crucial.
“Recognising and establishing some boundaries, realising that self care is important, as well as saying no at times” can help people from stretching themselves too far, explains Hartley. Monitoring your mental and emotional well-being regularly is another potent weapon against burnout. This practice empowers you to identify signs of stress, burnout, or depression, allowing you to take necessary action.
Fostering a life outside of work is equally vital in the fight against burnout. Engaging in other interests aids relaxation, rejuvenation, and stimulates your creativity. Revisit old hobbies that you may have set aside due to work demands, such as reading, writing, painting, cooking, gardening, playing an instrument, or learning a new language. Additionally, join clubs or communities that share your passions—these connections can provide valuable social support and inspiration.
Self-care lies at the heart of preserving your physical and mental health. Attend to your basic needs, ensuring you eat well, sleep adequately, exercise regularly, stay hydrated, meditate or practice yoga, and seek professional help when necessary. Self-care also entails treating yourself with kindness and compassion, especially during times of heightened stress or burnout. Practise positive affirmations, reward yourself for accomplishments and never hesitate to ask for assistance when needed.
Normalise Mental Health Conversations
Lastly, organisations need to normalise conversations about mental health within the fashion industry. By doing so, they can dismantle the stigma and shame attached to burnout. Open and honest discussions surrounding mental health issues—be it stress, burnout, depression, or anxiety—can prove transformative. Hartley explains she’s been privy to this experience with her co-workers, “we’re offered two complimentary sessions a month, and I’ve been very fortunate to work with senior members of staff that have been really open about their mental health”. Understanding that not everyone has this experience, as she knows “people that work in really toxic environments, where they work really late, or work through their lunch break”
Organisations can facilitate such conversations by educating employees about mental health and its impact on work performance and well-being, providing resources and information about mental health services and support, creating safe and confidential spaces for employees to share their experiences and emotions, encouraging managers and leaders to model healthy attitudes and behaviours towards mental health, incorporating mental health considerations into performance reviews and onboarding processes, and recognising and addressing signs of distress or burnout among employees.
Fostering Work-Life Balance
While individual strategies are essential for coping with burnout, they alone cannot solve the problem. Organisations must tackle the root causes of burnout in the fashion industry, which often stem from the work environment and culture. Promoting work-life balance within the workforce is also crucial to preventing burnout and fostering well-being. Work-life balance refers to the ability to juggle work demands and personal life expectations without sacrificing either.
It’s important, for organisations to nurture a work-life balance by establishing realistic expectations and deadlines, encouraging employees to take breaks and vacations, respecting personal time and boundaries, providing flexible work arrangements such as remote or part-time work, offering wellness programs or initiatives like yoga classes or meditation sessions, and creating a supportive and positive work environment.
“If you’re facing challenges, seek out a safe space. It may not necessarily involve a therapist, but find a secure environment where you can confide in someone and be honest with yourself. The initial step is to simply embrace honesty. Recognise the moments when you feel constantly overwhelmed or persistently fatigued, and acknowledge that you struggle to cope, often on the verge of tears. This realisation marks the first step towards understanding that there is a genuine issue at hand. Consider the available options and resources: Where can I find the support I need?” – Karen Hartley