Woman laying on a stack of folders looking very distressed.BURNOUT has been described as the erosion of the soul, a cross between helplessness and hopelessness, a severe loss of motivation and/or a mismatch between the requirements of the employer and the capabilities of the employee. Burnout can come about as the result of stress, low morale, poor working conditions, a bad boss, or simply having too much to do and not enough time to do it.

Burnout can occur at every level of an organization from the mailroom to the boardroom. It’s commonly found among helping professionals like nurses, teachers, and social workers but it is also found among police officers, lawyers, EMS workers, factory workers, white collar executives, customer service people, middle-level managers, and salespeople.

The profile of an employee who suffers from burnout may surprise you. It is often a person who cares deeply about his or her job but hits a roadblock somewhere along the way and simply stops caring – sometimes as a matter of self-defense. And it is often the rising stars within the organization that are at the greatest risk for burning out. These are people whose careers were on fire at one point – fueled by idealism, dreams, and the desire to really make a difference in the world.

Woman leaning against white board looking very distressedSometimes burnout occurs when the workload is overwhelming. The deadlines keep coming, the next crisis is always looming on the horizon and the employee never gets a sense of completion at the end of the day. In this competitive atmosphere there is often an emphasis on quantity over quality. Add downsizing, and inadequate training to the mix and you have a perfect recipe for burnout.

In bureaucratic organizations, burnout can result from too little stimulus. Workers complain that the job has gone stale. That it’s repetitive, monotonous and simply doesn’t challenge them enough. Bureaucracy and red tape only add to this burned out workers sense of futility. Eventually he or she just loses interest, doesn’t care and begins biding his or her time – doing just enough to get by. These workers are called ROAD warriors. Retired on active duty.

Burned out workers feel cynical, withdrawn, exhausted, ineffective, unmotivated, angry, depressed, and stressed.

The five working conditions that can lead to burnout are:

  1. Too much to do and not enough time to do it. You feel overwhelmed all the time, like Sisyphus rolling a huge boulder up a hill every day only to have it roll back down every night.

  2. Not enough control. You feel powerless and not in control of simple ground level decisions that affect how you do your job. Your hands are tied.

  3. Not worth it. Low pay, unpaid overtime or the salary isn’t worth the hassles.

  4. Treated unfairly. Raises, perks or promotions are handed out unfairly.

  5. Value conflict. Your values and your employers values don’t match up.

What can I do about burnout right now?

  • Take a 1-month vacation or leave of absence. School teachers suffering from burnout often recover every year over summer break.
  • Work on something new. Find something that you perceive as challenging and see if management will let you do it. Try taking on a task that takes you outside your comfort zone.
  • Create a support group. If you don’t want to switch jobs but there are issues that need addressing at your company, like unsafe working conditions, get together with other workers and see if you can get your grievances addressed.
  • Change jobs. Look for a new employer with employee-friendly policies like family leave, on-site daycare, health insurance, and retirement. Chances are these are places that care about your welfare.
  • Reinvent yourself. Personal growth and development is often a cure for burnout. You are a work in progress. Find a new hobby, enroll in a community college class that teaches you some new marketable skill.

Related Items

Burnout and Job Stress
Tips for dealing with stress in the workplace.
Managing Stress DVD
Five techniques for tackling tension.
Teach people how to avoid burnout.
Stress, Humor, Burnout & Balance
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