Burnout – How to keep your employees and yourself on the right track

Theo Etzel’s Management Matters

Shorter hours, more money, happier employees, less stress, clear future, longer vacations, all is great with the world. Is this your reality?

Hopefully so, but I would proffer up that those realities may be for a very small percentage of us. Cutting across many industry and business lines I hear and see the reality of: do more with less, lower margins, tight cash, high stress levels in staff, more demanding clients, shorter tempers, uncertain economic future, and longer hours that still don’t seem to be enough. These are more reflective of various trends that I see in many businesses.

Not only can you, the leader of a company, experience burnout, but the entire organization can suffer from it as well.

What is burnout?
Simply stated it is a feeling of being overwhelmed and not able to make a significant difference in the outcome of events, over a sustained period of time. This is a building feeling. It also is influenced by personal demands, civic demands, and self pressure to maintain a certain lifestyle or community persona.

Allowed to manifest fully, a general sense of “I just don’t care anymore.” creeps into the subconscious and then the conscious thought process. Symptoms and physical actions then follow. If the leader exhibits these traits, the employees and clients will follow suit and damage can occur to the viability of the organization.

Let me say right here that burnout is vastly different from temporary frustrations in the everyday game of business and life. We all experience periods of frustration when a situation does not resolve itself quickly or is out of our control for a while. These are normal occurrences and we rise to the challenge and fight the good fight. If we find that we have lost the desire to jump into the fight, the feeling of not caring, or an almost give-up or give-in attitude exists, then a deeper examination of where we really are in life needs to take place. This can be a true sign of burnout.

Politics, Religion and Life
Note that employees and staff can suffer from burnout also. In today’s times we are all fatigued from the economic malaise we have been experiencing, the political tug-of-war and polarization of ideologies, and from news on the battlefronts many miles from home. These are all wearing on people, both inside and outside the company.

“Too much work, not enough time”
In recent years, many companies have had to lay off staff and cut hours. These actions, while necessary, transfer more work to fewer people, again causing a feeling of “too much work, not enough time.” Paying attention to the balance in the workplace is very important. If people are not allowed to find fun or reward in what they do, burnout is not far behind. This goes for the leadership as well.

Over the last 10-12 years both the rate of change on the technology front and the expectations placed on people in the workplace have accelerated at a staggering pace. Who can’t relate to the idea of learning a software program and, just when you get comfortable, a new and improved, be-the-first-on- your-block-to-own-it, version comes out and the learning curve starts all over again? This is anxiety causing for people since the natural tendency is to resist change. I think it is very important for people to not only understand how to do a function in the business but what they are truly doing for the greater purpose of the organization and its customers. We all need to know this, including me.

How we do something and what we do are very different. At Conditioned Air, the “how” might be through the use of a computer, meters, telephone, software. The “what” is to provide comfort and safety for people who need help with cooling, heating and indoor air quality. The “what” speaks to our purpose and the greater good of why we find satisfaction in going to work. As a leader it is so important to embrace this concept and communicate it to our employees. It also helps avoid our own feeling of burnout when we repeat it for our own ears to hear.

Being “On” too long
Many years ago, upon my telling my then current employer that I was going to take a “working vacation,” he said these words: “Ok, but it won’t be good work and it won’t be a good vacation.” I was too young to truly understand his advice except to realize on the other end of the “working vacation” I hadn’t done the work I brought and I really didn’t relax like I thought I would. In fact, I remember feeling somewhat unproductive and certainly not rested mentally. I tell this story because it is truer today for more people, and on a daily basis. The reason: connectivity through technology.

Leaders and staff members alike can be connected to the office 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. The lines of work time and personal time have become blurred, and completely erased for some. Being “on” for clients, staff, or colleagues means being “off” for others, possibly family members, or yourself. Knowing work patterns and setting limits on them for both you and your employees is crucial in reducing the chances of burnout. This is easier said than done, especially today with more demanding customers and shorter reaction times.

Take the time to establish boundaries for yourself and your employees. If we don’t take time to recharge our batteries then we have no other outcome except frustration and burnout. I know that’s a strong statement but balance in life is so important to our overall wellbeing that it can hardly be overstated.

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