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Burnout

Burnout

Burnout is one of the hottest organizational topics (sorry about the pun). What causes it? More importantly what can you do to prevent it?

According to New York psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger, PhD., who coined the term, burnout is a state of fatigue or frustration brought about by excessive devotion to a cause, a way of life, or a relationship that fails to produce the expected reward. Put more simply, it’s what happens when you work flat out and find you’re getting nothing back to make all that effort worthwhile. Hard work itself isn’t the problem; many people work extremely hard—top athletes for example—and do it willingly because it allows them to enjoy success and fame. It’s the combination of unrelenting hard work and limited (or no) reward that brings people to their knees.

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Symptoms of Burnout
The onset of burnout is usually quite slow. Early symptoms include a sense of emotional and physical exhaustion, followed by feelings of alienation, cynicism, impatience, or negativism. This develops into profound a sense of detachment, with a growing resentment of work and the people who are a part of that work. In the final stages, people insulate themselves to the point they no longer care about much at all. Those who suffer burnout are no longer angry; they’ve stopped even trying; they’ve become so exhausted they’ve lost their capacity for feeling anything beyond numbness. The irony of burnout is that it often happens to the very people who were most enthusiastic and full of energy and new ideas at the start. It’s a problem born of good intention, when people try harder and harder to reach unclear or unrealistic goals and deplete all their energy reserves in the process.

Organizations Are Causing Burnout
People usually think of burnout as an individual problem, maybe due to an excessively demanding schedule, too high a drive for achievement, or an individual boss who expects too much for too long. But organizations cause endemic burnout by imposing impossible targets, faulty structures and poorly defined roles. Burnout starts when people lose their belief objectives are attainable, regardless of how hard they work; when effort and outcome aren’t linked in any rational and understandable way; or when they feel their work is misjudged and they no longer understand clearly what is expected of them.

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These are the most common organizational factors leading to burnout:

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  • Role Conflict: Someone trying to cope with conflicting responsibilities quickly becomes disheartened. They feel they’re working against themselves. The longer the conflict persists, the less possible it is to achieve anything worthwhile. The result will be the feelings of hopelessness and exhaustion associated with burnout.
  • Role Ambiguity: It’s impossible to do a good job if you don’t know clearly what’s expected of you and your role; or if your understanding of the job isn’t the same as the one held by your boss. It’s even worse if neither boss nor subordinate is aware of the problem. Each thinks the other sees the role as they do. The boss sees lack of progress as incompetence. The subordinate sees the boss’s judgment as arbitrary and unfair. As a result, neither is capable of accomplishing anything worthwhile.
  • Role Overload: A major cause of burnout is faulty performance expectations. Often the boss doesn’t bother to understand the subordinate’s abilities or circumstances, so adds extra responsibilities in the belief they can be easily handled . Or there’s a boss (or an individual) who can’t say no and so keeps taking on more responsibility. Tasks then pile up to the point where dealing with them becomes impossible. Many jobs have long since lost any resemblance to what’s set down in the job description; and it’s surprising how often neither the boss nor the subordinate is able to provide a clear rationale for current workload and expectations. When this happens, the only possible results are resentment, frustration and either burnout or an acrimonious parting.

If you’re starting to experience any of the symptoms of burnout, the first priority is to slow down and take a long, objective look at your working life and what’s causing the problem. Here are some postings that can help:

Adrian Savage is an Englishman and a retired business executive who lives in Tucson, Arizona. You can read his serious thoughts most days at Slow Leadership, the site for anyone who wants to bring back the taste, zest and satisfaction to leadership; and his crazier ones at The Coyote Within.

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Last Updated on September 15, 2020

7 Helpful Reminders When You Want to Make Big Life Changes

7 Helpful Reminders When You Want to Make Big Life Changes

Overcoming fear and making life changes is hard. It’s even harder when it’s a big change—breaking up with someone you love, leaving your old job, starting your own business, or hundreds of other difficult choices.

Even if it’s obvious that making a big change will be beneficial, it can be tough. Our mind wants to stay where it’s comfortable, which means doing the same things we’ve always done[1].

We worry: how do we know if we’re making the right decision? We wish we knew more. How do we make a decision without all of the necessary information?

We feel stuck. How do we get past fear and move forward with that thing we want to do?

Well, I certainly don’t have all the answers, but here are 7 things to remember when you want to move forward and make positive life changes.

1. You’ll Never Have All the Information

We often avoid making important decisions because we want more information before we make a tough call.

Yes, it’s certainly true that you need to do your research, but if you’re waiting for the crystal clear answer to come to you, then you’re going to be waiting a long time. As humans, we are curious creatures, and our need for information can be paralyzing.

Life is a series of guesses, mistakes, and revisions. Make the best decision you can at the time and continue to move forward. This also means learning to listen to and trust your intuition. Here’s how.

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2. Have the Courage to Trust Yourself

We make all sorts of excuses for not making important life changes, but the limiting belief that often underlies many of them is that we don’t trust ourselves to do the right thing.

We think that if we get into a new situation, we won’t know what to do or how to react. We’re worried that the uncharted territory of the future will be too much for us to handle.

Give yourself more credit than that.

You’ve dealt with unexpected changes before, right? And when your car got a flat tire on the way to work, how did that end up? Or when you were unexpectedly dumped?

In the end, you were fine.

Humans are amazingly adaptable, and your whole life has been helping you develop skills to face unexpected challenges.

Have enough courage to trust yourself. No matter what happens, you’ll figure out a way to make it work.

3. What’s the Worst That Could Happen?

Like jealousy, most of your fears are created in your own head.

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When you actually sit down and think about the worst case scenario, you’ll realize that there are actually very few risks that you can’t recover from.

Ask yourself, “What’s the worst that could happen?” Once you realize the worst isn’t that bad, you’ll be ready to crush it.

When you’re preparing to make a big life change, write down all of the things you’re afraid of. Are you afraid of failing? Of looking silly? Of losing money? Of being unhappy?

Then, address each fear by writing down ways you can overcome them. For example, if you’re afraid of losing money, can you take a few months to save up a safety net?

4. It’s Just as Much About the Process as It Is About the Result

We’re so wrapped up in results when we think about major life changes. We worry that if we start out towards a big goal, then we might not make it to the finish line.

However, you’re allowed to change your mind. And failing will only help you learn what not to do next time.

Furthermore, just because you don’t reach the final goal doesn’t mean you failed. You chose the goal in the first place, but you’re allowed to alter it if you find that the goal isn’t working out the way you hoped. Failure is not a destination, and neither is success.

Enjoy the process of moving forward[2].

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5. Continue to Pursue Opportunity

If you’re on the fence about a big decision, then you might be worried about getting locked into a position that you can’t escape from.

Think about it a different way. New choices rarely limit your options.

In fact, new pursuits often open up even more opportunities. One of the best things about going after important goals with passion is that they open up chances and options that you never could have expected in the beginning.

If you pursue the interesting opportunities that arise along the path to your goal, then you can be sure that you’ll always have choices.

6. Effort Matters, So Use It

It sounds simple, but one of the big reasons we don’t make life changes is because we don’t try. And we don’t try because then it’s easy to make excuses for why we don’t get what we want.

Flunked that test? Are you stupid? “Of course I’m not stupid. I just didn’t study. I would have gotten an A if I actually studied.”

Stuck in a job you hate? Why haven’t you found a new job yet? “Well, I haven’t really tried to get a new job. I could totally ace that interview if I wanted.”

Why do we make excuses like these to ourselves? It’s because if we try and fail, then we just failed. But if we don’t try, we can chalk it up to laziness.

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Get over it. Failure happens to everyone.

And the funny thing is, if you actually try—because it’s pretty clear that most people aren’t trying—then you’ll win a lot more than you think.

7. Start With Something Manageable

You can’t climb Everest if you don’t try hiking beforehand.

Maybe applying for your dream job seems intimidating right now. What can you start with today?

Can you talk to someone who already has that position and see what they think makes them successful? Can you improve your skills so you meet one of the qualifications? Can you take a free online course to expand your resume?

Maybe you’re not quite ready for a long-term relationship, but you know you want to start dating. Could you try asking out a mutual friend? Can you go out more with friends to practice your communication skills and meet new people?

You don’t need to be a world changer today; you just need to make small life changes in your own world.

More Tips to Help You Make Life Changes

Featured photo credit: Victor Rodriguez via unsplash.com

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