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Years ago, the corporation I worked for started laying off employees.  I did what most employees did, worked harder and kept a low profile.  Finally, my notice came.  It was for all intents and purposes an “amiable notice,” yet, it meant that my family and I had to relocate to another part of the country and seek alternative employment.  Naturally, this caused a significant amount of stress, and I asked for some assistance with my remaining work.  My supervisor stopped by my office and handed me an article and said, “I think you need to read this.”  I glanced at the title, something about burnout, and I was incensed! I complained, “this is not my problem! I just asked for a little help!” However, after I simmered down and started reading, I found that I couldn’t complete the article due to the torrent of tears streaming down my face.

The Japanese term kaōshi became popular in the 1980’s to describe “overwork death.”  Stories surfaced of people in Asian countries who worked 80-hour weeks dying suddenly of heart attacks and strokes. While alarming, most of us in Western cultures would never associate ourselves or our employees with this phenomenon because we work a “normal” week and engage in “normal” activities on the weekend.  So why discuss this?

Simply put, your employees are your most valuable asset.  Not only do they drive the success of the business, but with committed individuals, they become advocates for the business and its product.  However, the very qualities that you prize in your most engaged associates could also be the qualities that lead to their downfall.

What should I be on the lookout for?

“In order to suffer from burnout, you must first be on fire.”

-Elliot Aronson, psychologist and winner of three major awards of the American Psychological Association.

Ironically, what drove you or your team members to achieve what has been accomplished thus far, may also drive you or them to incapability.  Ask yourself, which of my team members are:

Driven?  Idealistic? Sympathetic? Altruistic?

In the years since that initial intervention, I’ve experienced other bouts with burnout.  I’m still driven, detail-oriented, and try to be self-sacrificing.  Yet, hopefully I’m getting better at seeing the combustion point before I arrive there.  How do you know if you’re approaching or have become burned out?

Environmental Factors

Time pressures.  A fast-paced environment is both challenging and exciting.  There’s nothing like seeing the best come from a team working under a deadline.  Yet, is this the “normal” in your work environment?  Are you spinning from one “crisis” to the next?  

Lack of appreciation.  During the high-demand periods, does leadership push hard for results with constant emails checking on progress, reminders of deadlines, but then when the job is done, all that is heard is “great work people”?  It can be easy for individuals to feel that attention is only drawn when something is needed but otherwise one is invisible.  The employee can feel insignificant and her efforts meaningless.

The bottom line

No matter what the company message is, or how indispensable you may be feeling as a leader or team member, there really is only one of you.  Unfortunately, as much as we might secretly wish that someone step in and “save us from ourselves,” that’s not likely to happen.  You have a responsibility to manage you.  Yes, the next guy may be able to work a 50-hour week, run half marathons once a month, and volunteer one evening a week at a local charity.  But, that guy is not you, so stop comparing yourself.

“Always be a first-rate version of yourself and not a second-rate version of somebody else.”

-Judy Garland

It’s no surprise that hard-working and dedicated individuals have had substantial success in their careers.  But, they still have lots of great life to live!  So, if the environment you find yourself in isn’t tolerant of you taking the needed breather to maintain, or restore, your capabilities, it may be time to adjust your environment.  Chances are though, like the perceptive supervisor mentioned at the outset, others may be seeing your decline and support your need to readjust your perspective and recharge.  Although my initial reaction back then was negative, I was grateful in the long run that the supervisor took the initiative to go out on a limb and look out for the interests of his team. Realize that in order to protect your asset, you too may have to address the signals.

What can I do if I see myself on this path?

Repeatedly, information dealing with burnout stresses the importance of finding support.  A caution though, your partner may not be capable of being that “go-to” person every time. Develop a network of friends with whom you can share your load.  Additionally, set boundaries and use self-control.  There are times when work might “follow you home.” But, like a stray animal, you don’t have to adopt it into your family.  Learn to schedule times when work is off limits, and control yourself from checking or responding to email.  And, finally, allow yourself to engage in some fun activities.  And, if you have a hard time allowing yourself that indulgence, think of it this way…It’s actually making you a more renewable and sustainable resource.

RightMind is a business dedicated to enhancing the quality and outcome of your success.  Much of what we support companies with is based on the science of human biology.  Using a holistic approach, we help you examine everything from your core company values to your team dynamics to how you are perceived by your customers.  Why not see how we can help you transition from great to superior? Please contact us at info@rightmindinc.com or through our website at www.rightmindinc.com.