Employee Burnout – The Signs and the Solutions

Theo Etzel’s Management Matters

People who are high achievers, who set high standards and set high goals, are more prone to suffer burnout as their career develops than hard working realists. Life, and especially business life, isn’t perfect. When the reality of the situation continues to fall short of the ideals and perfection held by someone, burnout may occur.

This is not to say that lofty goals and the desire for great outcomes of situations is a bad thing. But we need to be mindful that the failure to meet unrealistic goals will defeat the most optimistic person over time. Paying attention to your own feelings is very important. But watching out for signs that an employee is beginning to suffer from burnout is critical for the success of the organization.

People who suffer from burnout often feel fatigued, sapped emotionally and tired just doing the day to day grind. Tempers can get a little short or a reaction may seem like an overreaction to a small incident. You might see someone who is much less productive than they were before, or exhibit a more “I don’t care” attitude.

Certainly, over the last few years many people have been put in the position of having to lay people off, close locations or other downsizing efforts. Making significant cutbacks in all areas is very stressful and definitely not fun. Often these people may appear melancholy or even depressed because they are in this cycle. Burnout has a sense of hopelessness associated with it. People may refer to this state as being stressed-out. In any event, the desire to go climb another mountain, whatever that “mountain” is at the time, is simply not there.

Some cope by masking the discomfort of stress and burnout with alcohol or drugs or other diversionary addictions. Obviously, this behavior only leads to destruction, not only of the person but to all others associated with him or her. If this is you or someone you know, I strongly recommend professional intervention.

So, what can we do to keep from getting into a downward spiral to the land of burnout?
I believe the first thing to do is acknowledge that it is a possibility that can happen to any of us. If we pretend it doesn’t exist, it can sneak up and catch people by surprise. Put it out on the table and say that you want to make sure it doesn’t happen by paying attention to the signs above. Use the potential of a burnout situation to re-evaluate the priorities in life and seek that balance that is needed.

Remember the example of the three legged stool: when one leg gets disproportionately long or short, the stool collapses. Balance between work, personal, family, spiritual, and community can be difficult and must be approached proactively. Certainly there are times in our lives where we need to focus more attention to one area due to demanding circumstances that require our time and energies. But when that short term focus becomes long term, seemingly endless commitment, that’s when trouble can begin to manifest itself.

My last article was about my use of a business coach. Not to revisit the entire concept here, except to say that one of the goals in these coaching sessions is the discussion on checks and balances in my work and personal life to help keep me centered. My monthly meetings with other CEOs also help me to gain perspective in the broad picture of business and personal issues.

Avoiding burnout scenarios in the staff’s experience at work is one of the main responsibilities of the leader of the company. Remember, leaders wear many hats and are always on stage. So, everyone is looking at you for the tone and direction and general mood of the company. Recognizing people for a job well done, making sure they feel an integral part of the whole team and that they have a purpose for being there, and providing growing opportunities through education and advancement will do a lot for the positive morale of each individual and the entire group.

At Conditioned Air, we instituted a Joy Committee that comes up with simple, fun ideas to break the tension of work once in a while. It could be wear your favorite team jersey to work, free pizza for lunch, a putting contest, or the like but people enjoy the laughs and break in routine. Seeing the leader laugh at himself or herself is a great stress reliever for the team.

Burnout can occur. It can happen to you, me or someone we know. If we acknowledge this fact and take proactive steps to keep our lives in balance and priorities in perspective, we can work to avoid these repetitive cycles that so many people experience. I believe in taking big challenges and breaking them into smaller, more manageable tasks. Feeling overwhelmed is a very uncomfortable feeling.

So, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

Be upfront and assertive in managing burnout and addressing the steps to avoid it. Don’t let burnout be the elephant in the room no one talks about or wants to deal with.

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