One faithful day, you wake up and immediately find yourself in a dreadful mood. The thought of going on into work nauseates you. You search for any kind of meaning in the work you do but find none. “Soul sucking” are words you have used to describe your current work situation.
Try as you may, you can’t come up with one good reason to get up out of bed. Then you hear a voice, your voice, saying what up until now you couldn’t say, were afraid to say out loud – “I can’t do this anymore.”
So, you’re burned out. Now what?
Recognizing job burnout may be the first (and last) step in discovering the problem but, it is a step no closer to a solution. In order for things to change, you are going to have to change some things.
Job burnout occurs anywhere there is a mismatch between the work environment or job and the individual performing the job. As explained by Dr. Christina Maslach in her book, The Truth About Burnout, there are six of these major mismatches. They are:
- 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 and overwhelmed.
- 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.
Upwards of 90% of the time, burnout is caused by the work environment, not the employee. In order to alleviate job burnout, mismatches must be addressed head on so the root cause of each can be eliminated. If an organization or employer values their employees and the products and services they provide, then they will make needed change happen in order to retain talent. If an employer’s eye is only on the bottom line then the likelihood of needed change will be non-existent.
This is where the hard choices present themselves for the individual suffering from job related burnout. Stay put or if the work environment won’t change, change work environments. This is often easier said than done. People will often wait until they feel they have no other choice before they quit and move on to other work or a different job. Change is hard, not impossible.
There is an upside to job burnout. Those who are not content to say the same, those who do not consent to stay the same are the individuals who have a higher than average chance of finding their true purpose and passion in life. They are the creators, the innovators, the entrepreneurs. Circumstances force them to stretch beyond their current perceived capabilities. They choose change. They jump out of bed in the morning to resume the moving and the shaking.
Do you recognize any of the mismatches in your work which can lead to burnout? Do you feel burned out now? What steps will you take to alleviate job burnout?