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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 January 21, 2020

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

5 Steps To Move Out Of Stagnancy In Life

In the journey of growth, there are times when we grow and excel. We are endlessly driven and hyped up, motivated to get our goals.

Then there are times when we stagnate. We feel uninspired and unmotivated. We keep procrastinating on our plans. More often than not, we get out of a rut only to get back into another one.

How do you know if you are stagnating? Here are some tell-tale signs:

  • If you have been experiencing chronic procrastination on your goals
  • If you don’t ever feel like doing anything
  • If you keep turning to sleep, eating, games, mindless activities and entertainment for comfort
  • If you know you should be doing something, but yet you keep avoiding it
  • If you have not achieved anything new or significant now relative to 1 month, 2 months or 3 months ago
  • If you have a deep sense of feeling that you are living under your potential

When we face stagnation in life, it’s a sign of deeper issues. Stagnancy in life, just like procrastination, is a symptom of a problem. It’s easy to beat ourselves over it, but this approach is not going to help.

Here, I will share 5 steps to help you move out of this stagnation. They won’t magically transform your life in 1 night (such changes are never permanent because the foundations are not built), but they will help you get the momentum going and help you get back on track.

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1. Realize You’re Not Alone

Everyone stagnates at some point or another. You are not alone in this and more importantly, it’s normal. In fact, it’s amazing how many of my clients actually face the same predicament, even though all of them come from different walks of life, are of different ages, and have never crossed paths.

Realizing you are not alone in this will make it much easier to deal with this period. By trying to “fight it”, you’re only fighting yourself. Accept this situation, acknowledge it, and tell yourself it’s okay. That way, you can then focus on the constructive steps that will really help you.

2. Find What Inspires You

Stagnation comes because there isn’t anything that excites you enough to take action. If you don’t have a habit of setting goals, and instead just leave yourself to daily mundanes, it’s not surprising you are experiencing stagnation.

What do you want to do if there are no limitations? If you can have whatever you want, what will it be? The answers to these questions will provide the fuel that will drive you forward.

On the other hand, even if you are an experienced goal setter, there are times when the goals you set in the past lose their appeal now. It’s normal and it happens to me too. Sometimes we lose touch with our goals, since we are in a different emotional state compared to when we first set them. Sometimes our priorities change and we no longer want to work on those goals anymore. However, we don’t consciously realize this, and what happens is we procrastinate on our goals until it compounds into a serious problem.

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If that’s the case for you, it’s time to relook into your goals. There’s no point in pursuing goals that no longer inspire you. Trash away your old goals (or just put them aside) and ask yourself what you really want now. Then go for them.

3. Give Yourself a Break

When’s the last time you took a real break for yourself? 3 months? 6 months? 1 year? Never? Perhaps it’s time to take a time-out. Prolonged working can cause someone to become disillusioned as they lose sight of who they are and what they want.

Go take some extended leave from work. A few days at bare minimum; a few weeks or months will be great. Some of my ex-colleagues have quit their jobs and took months out to do some self-reflection. Of course, some of us might not have that luxury, so we can stick to a few weeks of leave.

Go on a trip elsewhere and get away from your work and your life. Use this chance to get a renewed perspective of life. Think about your life purpose, what you want and what you want to create for your life in the future.

These are big questions that require deep thinking over them. It’s not about finding the answers at one go, but about taking the first step to finding the answers.

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4. Shake up Your Routines

Being in the same environment, doing the same things over and over again and meeting the same people can make us stagnant. This is especially if the people you spend the most time with are stagnant themselves.

Change things around. Start with simple things, like taking a different route to work and eating something different for breakfast. Have your lunch with different colleagues, colleagues you never talked much with. Work in a different cubicle if your work has free and easy seating. Do something different than your usual for weekday evenings and weekends. Cultivate different habits, like exercising every day, listening to a new series of podcasts every morning to work, reading a book, etc (here’re 6 Proven Ways To Make New Habits Stick). The different contexts will give you different stimulus, which will trigger off different thoughts and actions in you.

When I’m in a state of stagnancy, I’ll get a sense of what’s making me stagnate. Sometimes it’s the environment I’m in, sometimes it’s the people I’ve been hanging out with, sometimes it’s my lifestyle. Most of the times it’s a combination of all these. Changing them up helps to stir myself out of the stagnant mode.

5. Start with a Small Step

Stagnation also comes from being frozen in fear. Maybe you do want this certain goal, but you aren’t taking action. Are you overwhelmed by the amount of work needed? Are you afraid you will make mistakes? Is the perfectionist in you taking over and paralyzing you?

Let go of the belief that it has to be perfect. Such a belief is a bane, not a boon. It’s precisely from being open to mistakes and errors that you move forward.

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Break down what’s before you into very very small steps, then take those small steps, a little step at a time. I had a client who had been stagnating for a long period because he was afraid of failing. He didn’t want to make another move where he would make a mistake. However, not wanting to make a mistake has led him to do absolutely nothing for 2-3 years.

On the other hand, by doing just something, you would already be making progress, whether it’s a mistake or not. Even if you make a supposed “mistake”,  you get feedback to do things differently in the next step. That’s something you would never have known if you never made a move.

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Featured photo credit: Anubhav Saxena via unsplash.com

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