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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 October 15, 2019

How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps

How to Plan Your Life Goals and Actually Achieve Them in 7 Simple Steps

Where do you want to be 5 years from now, 10 years from now, or even this time next year? These places are your goal destinations and although you might know that you don’t want to be standing still in the same place as you are now, it’s not always easy to identify what your real goals are.

Many people think that setting a goal destination is having a dream that is there in the far distant future but will never be attained. This proves to be a self-fulfilling prophesy because of two things:

Firstly, that the goal isn’t specifically defined enough in the first place; and secondly, it remains a remote dream waiting for action which is never taken.

Defining your goal destination is something that you need to take some time to think carefully about. The following steps on how to plan your life goals should get you started on a journey to your destination:

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1. Make a list of your goal destinations

Goal destinations are the things that are important to you. Another word for them would be ambitions, but ambitions sound like something which outside of your grasp, whereas goal destinations are certainly achievable if you are willing to put in the effort working towards them.

So what do you really want to do with your life? What are the main things that you would like to accomplish with your life? What is it that you would really regret not doing if you suddenly found you had a limited amount of time left on the earth?

Each of these things is a goal. Define each goal destination in one sentence.

If any of these goals is a stepping stone to another one of the goals, take it off this list as it isn’t a goal destination.

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2. Think about the time frame to have the goal accomplished

This is where the 5 year, 10 year, next year plan comes into it.

Some goals will have a “shelf life” because of age, health, finance, etc, whereas others will be up to you as to when you would like to achieve them by.

3. Write down your goals clearly

Write each goal destination at the top of a new piece of paper.

For each goal, write down what is it that you need and don’t have now that will allow you achieve that goal. This could be some kind of education, career change, finance, a new skill, etc. Any “stepping stone” goals you removed will fit into this exercise. If any of these smaller “goals” have sub-goals, go through the same process with these so that you have precise action points to work with.

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4. Write down what you need to do for each goal

Under each item listed, write down the things that you will need to do in order to complete each of the steps required to complete the goal. 

These items will become a check-list. They are a tangible way of checking how you are progressing towards reaching your goal destinations. A record of your success!

5. Write down your timeframe with specific and realistic dates

Using the time frames you created, on each goal destination sheet write down the year in which you will complete the goal by.

For any goal which has no fixed completion date, think about when you would like to have accomplished it by and use that as your destination date.

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Work within the time frames for each goal destination, make a note of realistic dates by which you will complete each of the small steps.

6. Schedule your to-dos

Now take an overview of all your goal destinations and make a schedule of what you need to do this week, this month, this year – in order to progress along the road towards your goal destinations.

Write these action points on a schedule so that you have definite dates on which to do things.

7. Review your progress

At the end of the year, review what you have done this year, mark things off the check-lists for each goal destination and write up the schedule with the action points you need for the next year.

Although it may take you several years to, for example, get the promotion you desire because you first need to get the MBA which means getting a job with more money to allow you to finance a part-time degree course, you will ultimately be successful in achieving your goal destination because you have planned out not only what you want, but how to get it, and have been pro-active towards achieving it.

Featured photo credit: Debby Hudson via unsplash.com

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