Job Burnout – October 28, 2005

Job Burnout

Future’s Ramblings – Issue 14 – October 28, 2005

Not being Catholic the closest I have ever come to confession is sitting on a barstool, never the less I feel I understand the concept of sin confession. The propelling guilt that weighs you down. Consequently, I must start this Futures Rambling with confessions. Forgive me Geyer, I did not check my WIPS on time, sign the invoices immediately, I completed my timesheet two days late and it has been two months since my last Rambling… Why? Well lots of thing, most of them acronyms like AGS, MBF, IAG but also to be honest with you, I just couldn’t get myself motivated to do it. The sad thing is that I had even done some great research on appropriate behaviour in the workplace following the antics of John Brogden – former NSW opposition leader, journalist groper and insulter of politician’s wives. Just ask Jenny Angle. So what was the problem is Laurie a slacker? – never mind don’t answer. What I have determined after a process of self diagnosis is I had job burnout.

First off there is a difference between job burnout and basic exhaustion, or general aversion to hard work. In her book Overcoming Job Burnout, Dr. Beverly Potter defines burnout as “a destruction of motivation caused by feelings of powerlessness. Power – the ability to influence and accomplish – is essential for well being and sustained motivation”. In another book The Truth About Burnout author Christina Malach and Michael P. Leiter define burnout as the index of the dislocation between what people are and what they have to do. It represents an erosion of values, dignity, spirit and will and erosion of the human soul. It is a malady that spreads gradually and continuously over time, putting people in a downward spiral from which it is hard to recover. Personally I don’t feel like I am in a downward spiral that is eroding my soul, I just want to take a few days off. The point is we all have our own idea of what this means, it is a very evocative term, a slippery concept with no standard definition but for many of us a real thing we experience from time to time. .

Work done on job burnout has found that there are three interrelated dimensions to job burnout which taken as a whole comprise a psychological symptom. The first dimension is exhaustion; feeling drained and not having mental or physical energy to get on with whatever it is you have to do. The second dimension is cynicism. Cynicism is defined as a negative evaluation and reaction to the job, often beginning with work overload. What happens with cynicism is that it leads to negative thoughts about both work and your colleagues. One hall mark with job burnout is the development of strong negative, hostile, cynical, dehumanizing responses to ones job. The third dimension is negative self evaluation, rather than being negative about ones job and colleagues’ sufferers are negative about who they are and what they are doing.

How do you determine whether you have job burnout or are just a big crybaby throwing a dummy spit?  Here are the early warning signs:

  1. Chronic fatigue – exhaustion, tiredness, a sense of being physically run down
  2. Anger at those making demands
  3. Self – criticism for putting up with the demands
  4. Cynicism, negativity and irritability
  5. A sense of being besieged
  6. Exploding easily at seemingly inconsequential things
  7. Frequent headaches and gastrointestinal disturbances
  8. Weight loss or gain
  9. Sleeplessness and depression
  10. Shortness of breath
  11. Suspiciousness
  12. Feeling of helplessness
  13. Increased degree of risk taking

No one is immune to job burnout; anyone can get it, in any profession and at any level. Research has been done in many different countries and the same insights and findings emerge. Interestingly, data suggest that it is not just the senior – level managers who run the organization who get burn out. The research suggests there is not any increased vulnerability for certain occupational groups, be they white or blue collar. The bottom line is it is about mismatches, between the individual and their job, or the workplace environment.

As with most things prevention is better than a cure. What preventative measures can an organization take to prevent job burnout affecting their employees? First off balancing work load is a good start, followed by giving employees control and autonomy. When people feel they have control over their work you will see greater engagement. Creating reward and recognition programs to give feedback positive and negative gives employees a good sense of their job progress. Next it is important to develop a workplace community including colleagues, ones supervisor, and the people one supervises – anyone who the employee has an ongoing relationship with. Creating relationships with mutual trust and support is critical to feeling positive about a job. It is also critical to develop a workplace that is fair; people expect to be treated fairly and with respect, especially when it comes to workloads, pay or promotion. Finally it is difficult to avoid a mismatch when there is a conflict between values. If employees feel constrained by a job they feel is unethical and not in accord with their core values there will be low engagement. It make you wonder how a guy like Dick Cheney happily goes to work every day, unless he is really satin in disguise.

What can each of us do as individuals to avoid job burnout? One bit of advice from the experts is to manage yourself, which requires knowledge and skill. Self management will increase your personal power because you can create situations where you can give yourself the rewards you need. I do this; it’s why I have a file drawer full of shoes. It is also important to manage stress, learn what situations trigger stress responses. By knowing what sets you off you can better raise and lower your tension level.  Building a strong support system of friends, family and co-workers can also help buffer you against the negative effects of stress

In our job journeys we will inevitably encounter situations that will require skills that we have not yet developed. Knowing how to arrange learning situations for yourself will give you the confidence that you can acquire the skills required to tackle new challenges. With jobs it is important to stretch your abilities and follow the inertia principle: A body in motion will stay in motion, keep yourself moving forward. In some cases this may require you to modify or tailor your job to increase your enjoyment of work, shaping your job to capitalize on your skills and interest, and expanding those parts of your job that you enjoy most.

It may be necessary to reprogram your thoughts so you do not respond to every red flag that is waved in your nose. Learning how to empty your mind of negative chatter and remain focused on the challenges at hand can help with work frustrations. Eliminating the negative thinking from your mind can free you up enough to turn around a bad situation and avoid job burnout. It is important to fine tune your thinking and take corrective action.

Part of avoiding job burnout is to be in control of yourself and your thoughts. It is when we are not in control that we feel helpless. Experts recommend detached concern, explaining that it is a higher order of mental control in which personal power can be gained by letting go. Attachment to your notions of how things ought to be can imprison you and make you feel helpless. Like any yoga or dance teacher would advise relax and breathe to stretch.

In some situations the best solution is to change jobs, but the experts warn that if burnout victims quit their job without analyzing the source of dissatisfaction or exploring what is needed, they run the risk of finding a new job as bad as, or worse than the old one.  Personal power comes in knowing what you need and how to go out and get it. It is important not to limit yourself, consider every way you can imagine to achieve what you want.

Finally, it is important not to take yourself too seriously. Laugh – as a disciplined practice – find humor in disaster to save your sanity, your health and your perspective.


Management Today

{How to prevent job} burn out by Professor Christina Maslach

July 2005

13 Signs of Burnout and How To Help You Avoid It  by Henry Neils

“Overcoming Job Burnout: How to Renew Enthusiasm for Work” Beverly A Potter Ronin Publishing Copyright 1998

Job Burnout – Part 1 The Real Causes by Vicki Bell

Just for fun you can take a free Motivational Appraisal of Personal Potential (MAPP) that will asses your true skills to help you tailor your dream job



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