Burnout - It's Not Me; It's You
I was speaking with a friend recently and she asked me if I ever felt like I was surrounded by people who had no clue what they were doing, and you’re the only sane one. I responded with a joke of how "I am perfect" and so "of course no one else knows what they are doing" and then we launched into a venting session of things that were driving us crazy. But afterwards, I was reflecting on the feeling she had asked about. How often do we feel that we alone are the sane ones and everyone else around us has no idea what they’re doing? And so I conducted an informal poll of friends and colleagues, and it turns out people feel this way often enough. Now, I know that no one truly thinks they’re the best and everyone else doesn’t know what to do, but their feelings do point towards work burnout.
In Harvard Business Review’s article “Employee Burnout Is a Problem with the Company, Not the Person," author Eric Garton states burnout is treated as a personal problem rather than a company problem when in fact the reasons for burnout come from work. The top three causes of burnout are excessive collaboration, weak time-management, and overloading the most capable employees. I can personally attest to the fact that too many meetings, committees, conference calls, and emails can zap my energy and leave me exhausted, and I know that it holds true for even the most sociable of people. Weak time-management, again, is not meant in a personal context, but rather professionally: managers or executives don’t understand how the demands of collaboration impact the day-to-day work of employees, therefore leaving many employees working after hours to do their actual work. The last cause for burnout is a big one and that is piling on the work for the most competent people. It makes sense to keep giving projects to people you know will get it done, but at the same time, those very people are the ones that suffer the most. So what should organizations do to get the best from their employees?
As leaders, it is incumbent upon us to then examine our time-management policies for our organizations because the over-scheduling of people and collaboration results from a lack of understanding the day-to-day and managing that in addition to juggling other priorities. Typically, what we at addie, LLC see is that the stellar employees take initiative and take on challenges, and that bosses lean on these employees more and more, adding things to their plate which leads to burnout.
Alternatively, a company where meetings are the primary mode of communication instead of using other communication methods is also a company unconscious of time-management. I have yet to meet an individual who loves the meetings or conference calls that he/she has to attend regularly. In fact, most people find meetings to be unproductive and ineffective, and the biggest grumble we hear from people is that they have other tasks that need to be completed, which they then have to complete outside of traditional work hours. Hence the burnout.
Organizations need to stop viewing burnout as a personal problem and view it as a company problem since it affects employee performance. Here at addie, LLC we have found that the following solutions prevent burnout:
- Creating a company culture of taking time off during slower cycles.
- Emphasizing the value of taking mental health days.
- Developing the skills of the under-utilized employees or replacing them.
- Streamlining communication processes.
- Be realistic about deadlines especially when employees are working on multiple projects or there is a lot of business travel involved.
- In the workspace create spaces and pockets of down-time.
Retaining good employees is not only cost-effective but also important because of preservation of institutional knowledge held by long term and/or stellar employees.