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Feb 06

Burn out?

Over the last 12 months I have noticed more and more reference to burn out in client projects. These have spanned various international entities – NGOs, professional membership organisations and international corporates in finance, retail, manufacturing and service delivery.heartfire

There is a recurring theme, that the work place is getting busier and busier, the expectations higher and higher and the remaining time – for family, hobbies, community work, creativity – even just doing the washing! – is shrinking.

This is clearly not a sustainable way for us to proceed. Millions suffer the malaise and indignity of unemployment while others work themselves to a frazzle. Where’s the sense in that?

Base on my experiences of the last 12 months (and this didn’t come up much before that, it’s a current phenomena), I see the following key factors as playing a role:

  • GROWING PAINS. The world is shifting from the old hierarchical, linear systems to the opportunity to work in new, more adaptive systems. Teams can be virtual, temporal and issue based. A single employee may work on several teams, cross pollinating ideas and connections between them. In order for these new opportunities to really deliver, someone (hey people at the top, I’m talking to you) has to be prepared to let go of some of the old habits. And like a teenager struggling to shift from child to adult, or a new parent or recently retired / fired / bereaved individual, the transition is scratchy. There’s some pain there and some fear. That’s normal so let’s just act like grown ups and get on with it.
  • STRESSED LEADERSHIP. We are a long way from the days where being in senior management meant long lunches and plenty of time on the golf course. Now we expect so much more of top leadership. Not only do they have to manage the business, they have to do so in a way that conforms to compliance requirements in many more areas. Meanwhile their customer base has raised its game (Trip advisor et al giving them the satisfaction of instant feedback), their employees are giving their views on glassdoor and on top of all that they are expected to be inspiring leaders. Unless they got all the right breaks, have a great coach and the kind of temperament suited to managing this contradictory range of requirements, they are likely to de-prioritise the third one. It might not be good for the business, but you’re less likely to go to jail for not inspiring your staff than you are for mismanaging the business or failing on a compliance issue.
  • FEAR OF FAILURE. The winner takes all has made admitting to failure tragically hMachine-Gun-Salesman-001ard in most organisations. Yet that is often where all the best learning is hiding. Creating ways for employees to share worst failure as well as best practice, and motivating them to do so, should accelerate the learning curve and save too many people having to make the same mistake. Sounds easy doesn’t it? So if you’re in charge of something, have a think and a listen about why this doesn’t just happen and see what can be changed.
  • NO TIME TO LOOK UP: sometimes, even though it’s hard, we just have to choose to look up. Take a walk, look at a tree, have a laugh, a glass of water or do a quick mindfulness activity. A 5 minute break might feel like unacceptable behaviour but it can save hours if it gives you the breathing space and thinking space you need.

Assume that you will burn out unless you choose not to.  Assume your team will burn out unless you step into your leadership role, identify and dismantle the false beliefs and create a healthy productive culture.

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