Avoiding employment burnout

Employees are not a consumable resource, yet this is how they are often treated


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It’s widely agreed that burning out on the job, any job, is anathema to a satisfying professional life. To be clear, by burnout I’m not referring to boredom or lack of inspiration with work, but rather the fear-based high anxiety and psychological debilitation that is the result of overly stressful attributes associated with your job.

There are some broad points to highlight about employment burnout. For starters, it leads to depressed economic activity. Also, it arises following repeatedly demoralizing processes that, taken together, is negative for the individuals involved and for those close to them. Finally, efforts to structure workplaces and assist people in making wise career choices so that burnout does not occur is progressive.

I suggest approaching the issue by looking at mitigation solutions that can be practiced by both employers and employees. My premise is that employment burnout is transactional, meaning that both parties play significant roles in its emergence and they can also do so in its demise.

It is in employers’ interest to not contribute to the burnout of their talent. They cost money to recruit, onboard and train, and they provide the productivity skills needed to keep an enterprise profitable.

What employees are not is a consumable resource. Yet this is how they are often treated. Too many workers toil for longer hours with no appreciable boost in compensation. This includes receiving after-hours emails from management. A downside for technology is the way it allows for the workday to be extended and therefore the workload to grow. Reasonable limits on work creep need to be instituted or employers will see their workforce turnover rate increase.

In addition to management exhausting their labor pool there is the issue of too many employers not showing adequate understanding of what motivates and energizes employees. High compensation and judicious work hours certainly help, but also to be considered are the conditions that feed the career aspirations of workers, and by extension the profits of companies.

When management recognizes the synergy between employee career development wishes and how those can best align with company productivity or organizational mission we create a win-win situation. Such a happy union is not a fertile ground for burnout.

It’s easy to pin all the blame on employers for employee burnout. But that is not entirely fair. When a worker goes into a job with his or her eyes wide open, knows clearly what is required to succeed and intentionally tries to find the alignment between their own career development and employer enrichment, they take ownership and responsibility for avoiding their own burnout.

I recommend that an employee be guided by some fundamental principles when deciding to select and sustain a particular job.

One is to always try to put yourself in a context where you are capitalizing on your strengths and managing your weaknesses. Do well what you are best at doing and allocate as little time as possible to handling those aspects of the job you just are not that good at performing. If these priorities are out of balance in your job, burnout is sure to follow.

It’s important to make sure your job allows for and hopefully encourages you to continually develop your professional skill set; interact and collaborate with colleagues and partners such that you are contributing optimally given your talent level; and that you leave each work shift feeling as if you are making a significant difference for yourself, your employer and the world. With these arrangements in place, you are unlikely to feel the drain leading to burnout.

Jobs, markets, competition, business success and profitability are all tough to get just right. It can often seem things are beyond our control. But reducing and eradicating employee burnout is a goal employers and employees can achieve together and prosper from mutually.

Bill Ryan, founder of Ryan Career Services, Concord, can be reached at 603-724-2289 or bill@ryancareerservices.com.

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