When it is recognized that an individual has burnout the individual often becomes the sole focus of efforts to correct any underlying problems. Yet, the underlying problems may not exist with the individual. Burnout can occur any time and anywhere there is a major mismatch between the nature of the job and the nature of the person who does the job.
Certainly, a person could choose a profession to which they are not well suited. But, more often than not an individual can find themselves in a job where there is substantial conflict between the demands of the job and their core values. When this occurs the potential for job burnout is high.
In their book, The Truth About Burnout, Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter explain the causes of burnout lie more in the job environment than within the individual. They have identified six major mismatches between people and their jobs which, when left unattended to properly, will lead to burnout.
Here are the six major mismatches which contribute to job burnout:
- Work Overload. Downsizing, budget cuts, layoffs, reorganization efforts all usually result in three things – more work intensity, more demands on time, more job complexity. In short, people are required to do ever more with less. This can leave individuals exhausted.
- Lack of Control. Organizations which become intolerant of creative problem solving in lieu of centralized control will squelch individual autonomy. This reduces an employee’s capacity to set limits, exercise problem solving, select individualized approaches to work, allocate resources and set priorities. The overall effect is a loss of interest in the job and monumental frustration.
- Insufficient reward. Market forces focusing on reducing costs have also reduced organizations’ capacity to reward their employees in meaningful ways. People seek tangible rewards from meaningful work such as money, security, recognition, benefits, intrinsic satisfaction, etc. If these are lacking people naturally begin to wonder why they are working so hard. More work + less reward = dissatisfaction.
- Breakdown of Community. As organizations grow larger or too quickly a breakdown in the character of the organization can result as short-term profit is chased at the expense of interpersonal relationships within the company. This will inevitably lead to greater conflicts among employees, a lack of mutual support, lack of respect and a growing sense of isolation. Dr. Maslach states, “A sense of belonging disappears when people work separately instead of together.”
- Absence of Fairness. Dr. Maslach perceives a workplace to be fair when three key elements are provided: trust, openness, and respect. When all three are present employees are valued and they will in turn feel valued and remain fully engaged (the opposite of burnout). When these elements are absent burnout will be the direct end result.
- Conflicting Values. If organizations say they are dedicated to excellence service yet take actions which damage the quality of the services they provide then conflict results. This can be extremely frustrating and demoralizing to the employee, especially if their internal moral compass or core values are being assailed. To achieve a quality product or service a company’s values must remain in alignment with those of the employees.
These mismatches can occur in any combination or in aggregate. However, they must each be addressed individually as each will have a unique set of solutions. Failure to address these mismatches can result in a dysfunctional and burned out staff with high staff turnover and inferior products or services.
I don’t have to tell you, the costs of this are devastatingly high, not only for the individual employee but the organization as a whole.
Do you recognize any of these mismatches in your organization? If so, how have they affected you?