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Moving On...Dealing With Burnout

I've worked with lots of clients (both men and women) in the decade I've been coaching professionally who have managed to be brilliantly successful in the short run, but in the long run couldn't keep up the pace. They've often come to me having worked incredibly hard and made huge sacrifices in their personal lives to reach a top spot or secure a key assignment. Yet when they finally made it to the top of the mountain they were too burned out or exhausted to reap the rewards of their effort. In addition, they were 'used up' and didn't have the necessary energy left to perform successfully in the new position.

This situation must be looked at through the eyes of both the one climbing the ladder to success and the one doing the pushing. As I discussed in the last newsletter, Moving On...By Delegating, often the delegator will delegate to a select few who they know will get the job done. This is because a company's superstars are often responsible for its success. But before you add another project to a top employee's plate, ask yourself: Is this person in danger of wearing out? Is it possible that your most conscientious team members are the ones most likely to burn out? These are the ones who are personally invested in their jobs and pride themselves in doing their best. This may mean working too hard for too long and taking on too much. While this is admirable, it can be taken to the extreme.

If you work for yourself, the same rules apply. You must be constantly vigilant in your choices and decisions as to what you take on. Do you do it yourself or do you delegate it; what is your time worth?

Signs of burnout:

  • "Flat-lining", lack of enthusiasm, excitement, or pleasure about work, dread getting up in the morning
  • Repeatedly skipping lunch, breaks, keeping late hours, working on weekends
  • Irritability towards others
  • Taking things personally
  • Drop in quality of work/performance
  • Chronic lateness
  • Missed deadlines/inability to manage load
  • Reluctance to take on new assignments

When you see the above symptoms appearing in your normally enthusiastic, motivated employee begin immediately to address the situation by speaking privately with them. Don't point the finger but instead offer the employee the chance to discuss what is going on, offer solutions, and redistribute the workload. Encourage them to speak to you immediately if they feel overwhelmed. Let them know it's okay to say 'no' when you attempt to hand them additional projects.

Evaluate staff requirements, if the workload is too much; perhaps hire more staff, temporary staff or even part time staff.

Analyze the environment - are staff members working as a team or is there unhealthy competition? Emphasize the importance of working together for a common goal. Offer to help.

Celebrate each employee, what they bring to the company and to you individually. Make sure they know they are appreciated, don't assume they know. Honor and reward employees. Empowered employees take initiative, are more productive and get along better with each other and with customers. There is no such thing as too much praise, if it's sincere.

If you are a manager or an employer, you can't afford to let burnout claim your star performers, it will affect your team and eventually your company. Look for symptoms, listen to what they have to say and implement preventative measures as soon as possible.

If you work solo, apply the above to yourself. You can't afford to let your career claim 'who you are' and leave your family, your health, recreation, and your spiritual growth in the lurches. Before you begin any new activity or move in a new direction ask yourself, "Is this activity or direction one that brings me closer or further away from what I value in my life?" Step back, observe from the 30,000 feet view: what do you see down there, where are you headed, what is the big picture of your life? Will this path take you there? If the answer is yes, then the next question may become, how can I do in a balanced way that is sustainable for the long term.

Looking even further beyond the surface, a few other reflections might be in order? Why do you push yourself so hard? Is there something you are afraid of? Is it a legitimate fear? Very often it is fear that drives us to the point of burnout. When this fear is taken apart and looked at from a more realistic viewpoint, we often see how foolish and unlikely the fear really is.

If you are showing signs of burnout, then what steps can you take to bring yourself back into alignment with your values and stop the burnout cycle before its too late?

If a coach, a spiritual counselor, or an unbiased friend can help, please don't think you have to go it alone. Ask for support.


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