With the advent of weisure – work + leisure – many a professional employer worth the feel-good stationary on which its name is glossily printed, understands the liabilities oozing from burnout stricken employees. We employees are replaceable, knows everyone who has ever reported to an easily threatened, reactionary supervisor. What our supervisors, their direct managers, the C-Suite leadership to which they report, and boards of directors who advise the C-Suite crew will not say unequivocally is replacing you causes an enormous drag on the organization – financial, productivity, internal morale, external persona, and efficiently serving the customer related drag. So, averting burnout among its employees as much as possible without shaving off too much from profit margins or forsaking quality measures on which accreditation rests has become paramount.
What is burnout? The Mayo Clinic defines burnout as “…a special type of job stress — a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.” This is the nicely scrubbed definition reasonable people expect from an entity with the caliber the Mayo Clinic has. Burnout manifests a lot more nastily than “doubts about your competence.” I have seen it show up as full-blown rage, crushing cynicism, and life altering vindictiveness.
I personally define it as being completely and utterly over an untenable work environment caused by arrogance, willful ignorance, and unshakable stubbornness to change among both colleagues of comparable managerial rank and managers. Burnout also may result from overconfidence or naïveté — taking on way too much work as a result of overselling your abilities to the person across from the manager’s desk as well as the one in the mirror. Sometimes burnout results from efforts to prove something to yourself and/or those around you who ultimately could care less. Lastly, burnout may result from an earnest effort to save your job when faced with the threats of reductions in force. Irrespective of the motive(s), burnout oftentimes achieves none of the aims from which it originates.
The detriment of burnout is a health concern that does not improve if money is thrown at it, flashy titles are dangled in front of it, you escape a downsizing massacre, or superficially accept an overly sold managerial re-org. Burnout manifests most acutely when the usual guard rails of keeping a job – being able to obtain and/or maintain good credit, having a place to live, driving a (nice) car, being able to eat whenever hunger pangs beckon, saving money for retirement, buying insert cool gadget or traveling on a whim among other freedoms – no longer keep you from spazzing the fuck-out in the workplace.
I do not mean the Florida Evans type of spazzing out. I am talking of the spazzing out that leaves termination as the only logical response – crass verbal spanking or expletive-laden diatribes requiring R and MA ratings. I am referencing the sort of reaction only ideal for TruTV marathons and Netflix originals — flipping over desks and tables, knocking over towering bookcases in a domino fashion, driving cars into storefronts, and throttling now former colleagues. By no means am I alluding to any gun violence of any sort — I need to clearly state this.
Calamitous private sector troublemakers are the most readily canned – the public sector in enough instances require catastrophic and time intensive bouts of second, fifth, thirty-third chances before they are terminated. By the time Human Resources in a public agency get the require signatures and acts of God aligned, the entire productive workforce that was terrorized by the burnout bandits is well into its second or third year working elsewhere. I have heard stories of some private sector employers dragging their feet in tossing overboard deadweight too – in all fairness – yet not as often as public employers. The unfortunate thing with either sector slowly pulling an Uncle Phil to rid work environments of burnout kindling is it sends the wrong message that such behavior resulting from burnout is okay and burnout in and of itself is not seen as problematic.
I started this blog by crediting employers for trying to stave off burnout without killing innovative thinking and/or a sense of self efficacy. I have dealt with burnout, and responded to it in less than ideal ways. As Maya Angelou says, “do the best you can until you know better. Then when you know better, do better.” I responded to burnout in any way that was feasible to me at the time “best you can” until its onslaught subsided. I was then able to step back and re-examine how I showed up in the world. I had to accept the fact that people do not really care about why I did what I did – just that I did it. Turning to hobbies and confiding in people I knew for sure had my best interests at heart (“when you know better, do better”) helped in more productively dissipating burnout until I was able to escape the environment. Lastly, do things that sustain you. Weathering burnout for too long is not one of them.