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Job Burnout – Finding Ways to Re-energise Work

How do you feel about work? Are you suffering from job burnout or does work energise you?

Job Burnout is the fourth article in our series on improving motivation at work. The first article: In Search of Optimum Performance, introduces the series. If you haven’t read this article yet then it may be a good place to start.

Management is essentially a balancing act and the first article introduces a model which can help you to achieve optimum performance. The model is based on six common management problem areas:

  1. Ease of work
  2. View of workload
  3. Amount of discretionary time
  4. Energy to tackle work
  5. Ability to be creative
  6. Getting the right things done

Job burnout

Job burn out is an increasing scourge on our way of working. In this article we look at the characteristics of job burn out and suggest some ways to renew your energy for work. How would you recognise job burnout? According to Maslach and Leiter, three things happen to someone experiencing job burnout, they become:

  1. Chronically exhausted;
  2. Cynical and detached from your work;
  3. Increasingly ineffective in the job.

Their findings, based on a study of a variety of professionals, provided an interesting conclusion. Whilst typically most responses to burnout focus on the individual, they discovered that the bigger problems were with situational factors in the organisation. Yes doing things individually can help, but the context and conditions in the workplace matter more. Managers therefore can do a lot to help ensure that conditions that reduce burn-out prevail.

What can managers do about it?

If many of the factors associated with job burnout are situational, then managers can make a significant contribution to reducing burnout, and to increasing the energy for work amongst colleagues. Three key areas to focus on are:

  1. Workload: as a manager have you balanced workload with expertise with your staff? For example in our article on your view of work we stressed the importance of not being overloaded in your job. Fundamentally you should ask is there too much to do, and too few resources to do it with?
  2. Choice: do you give choice to staff about how they go about achieving the teams goals? Secondly in our article about discretionary time we asked how much choice do you have in what you do and how you do it? Control over what you do has been found by several surveys as important to encouraging motivation in the workplace
  3. Relationships: Do you encourage teamwork and a supportive environment? A pivotal area which can reduce job burn out is the sense of “connectedness” to others at work. Again and again relationships have been shown to be fundamental to people’s happiness, and social networks at work can re-inforce supportive behaviour to reduce the risk of burn-out.

What Can an Organization Do About it?

The responsibility creating the conditions where job burnout is less likely to happen lies with the organisation. Central to the ability to do this is the sense of fairness within the organisation. That people are not asked or coerced into doing things which conflict with their values.

This is borne out by comprehensive research conducted by U.S. academics David Sirota, Louis Mischkind and Michael Meltzer, who concluded that employee motivation depended on three main areas: achievement; camaraderie; and equity. They deemed the most important of these to be equity; the sense of fairness in the organisation. For example, the moment appointments are made that counter that sense of fair play, or promotions are seen as favours, then a drain on the energy of individuals starts to take place.

What Can You Do About it?

Finally, in the light of what a manager and an organisation can do, we will consider some suggestions to keep your own positive energy high. Burn out saps you of energy and eventually leaves you exhausted. So what things can you do? In essence, you should seek out sources of energy, and try to deal with and remove those things which sap you of energy. It may well be that trying to use your strengths productively will do this. Certainly having a supportive network of people around you, whose energy you can feed off will help.

Here are some potential sources of energy that build on some of the principles discussed earlier:

  • The energy that is generated by focusing on your strengths: do more of what you are good at, and use your strengths productively.
  • The energy nurtured in relationships: develop and encourage a network of supportive relationships at work, whose energy you can feed off. Think especially of the power of relationships demonstrated in teamwork.
  • The energy borne in purpose: develop meaningful goals for yourself and for your colleagues, contribute to shaping the values in your area and more widely in the organisation.
Look at the Optimum Performance Graph below. If you are on the wrong side of the graph, what actions could you to take to move from burned out to re-energised? What can you do to enhance your work motivation and feel more energized with work? Ask yourself:
  • Where would you position yourself?
  • What do you need to do to feel more energized at work?
  • What can you put in place to help project you against job burnout?
Job Burn Out

Where to go from here:

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