June 22, 2016
In my work, the issue of burnout has been a continual hot topic over the years. It is not a fad that comes and goes, but interestingly, it continues to be a constant theme:
“Rod, one of our seasoned physicians is having some problems. He is very temperamental, has had several angry explosions with nursing staff, and last week a couple staff reported the smell of alcohol on his breath late in the evening when he was doing rounds.”
“Rod, I have a problem. Susan is one of my top sales people. She has consistently exceeded her numbers, but lately she has become unglued. At times no one can reach her for hours during the workday. She has burned through two assistants in the last month, both quitting with no advance notice. We are very worried about her, and wondered if you could help.”
Burnout is typically defined as a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about one’s competence and the value of their work. The precipitants and contributing factors can vary greatly:
- Lack of control or resources needed to complete a task
- Lack of clarity around job expectations or level of authority
- Dysfunctional workplace dynamics
- Lack of interest or fulfillment in one’s work
- Working long hours for an extended period of time
- Cumulative or acute stress
- Stress in one’s personal life
And the list goes on…
Being able to identify the warning signs of burnout is the first step in getting things turned around: increased cynicism, pessimism, and a generally more irritable mood; lower energy, lack of excitement, and problems with tardiness; increased isolation and lack of engagement; poor sleep and appetite.
A common misbelief is that burnout is a sign of weakness. This type of thinking typically isolates the person and discourages any help. The reality is that most of us do not let our work colleagues know everything that is going on in our lives, and every now and again, we go through some difficult and stressful times – whether at work or at home.
While there is not an easy answer to solve burnout, there are certainly things we can do to prevent it as well as treat it, if it is in full bloom.
Bottom line: keep your eyes open for the tired. Be less judgmental (towards others or yourself). Seek to understand and listen (not solve). Remember, people are amazingly resilient, and they just need time to be human.
Rod Ogilvie, Executive Coach