Burnout is the consequence of a broken way of work

It’s the time of the year where we can start to feel overly stressed by the demands of work, family, and community. But for some of us, the stress at work can become more than a short term spike of too many items on the todo list: it may be burnout.

Burnout is generally misunderstood. It’s not just the individual feeling helpless in the face of overload. It is really the fraying of the relationship of the burned out person and their work: their engagement in work, and the ties between the individual and the organization — and the social networks that make it up. It is a chronic issue, not a short term or seasonal sense of stress, and can lead to a deep sense of self-doubt, desperation, and cynicism. Widespread burnout is the systemic consequence of a core failure in society and business culture, and a compelling argument for a better, radically different way of work.

Widespread burnout is the systemic consequence of a core failure in society and business culture, and a compelling argument for a better, radically different way of work.Some research shows that the troubled economy is contributing to greater degrees of job stress and burnout, as Sharon Jayson reported on a survey from The Conference Board in 2012:

— 63% say they have high levels of stress at work, with extreme fatigue and feeling out of control.
— 39% cite the workload as the top cause of stress.
— 53% take frequent “stress breaks” at work to talk with others; 36% say they just work harder.
— Almost half (46%) cite stress and personal relationship issues as the most common reason for absences, ahead of medical reasons or care-giving responsibilities.

Christina Maslach is one of the leading researchers on burnout and its costs, both personal and societal. Maslach and her contributors created the Maslach Burnout Inventory, which addresses three scales contributing to burnout. And the factors include the obvious issue of workload — having too much work and not enough resources, but also these:

  • lack of control — micromanagement of your work by others, lack of influence over decisions impacting your work, and accountability without power
  • insufficient reward — not enough pay relative to the work done, lack of acknowledgment, and low job satisfaction
  • low engagement with community — sense of isolation, high degree of conflict, and a feeling of being disrespected
  • unfairness — perceived discrimination and favoritism
  • mismatched values — the presence of unresolved ethical conflicts, or the focus on meaningless tasks, for example.

The authors of the full inventory also created a quick burnout assessment, to help individuals gauge their circumstances and perhaps to start to improve the work/worker relationship mismatch that leads to burnout:

Screenshot 2013-11-30 05.59.17

The Bottom Line

By zeroing in on the factors that are contributing to a feeling of burnout, people can take actions to relieve the pressures in that area. If your workload is too high, perhaps you need to learn to delegate, or to push back on managers or coworkers asking you to take on more work. If you feel that you are not being made a party to decisions that affect your work, raise the issue in meetings with coworkers and management, and ask (demand) to be brought into those discussions.

Of course, some situations are beyond the reach of a quick checklist. Sometimes the fit between the job and the worker can’t be bridged.

We are living in a time of great transition, and the unrelenting pace of work and the rising demands of employers are increasing the pressure of workload, but the other factors can be a safety value. While more is being asked of all of us, that should not translate into depersonalization. Greater levels of involvement, autonomy and reengagement with work are possible even with increased workload, but there must be conscious efforts and new practices put in place for that to happen. Otherwise the rate of burnout is going to continue to rise, at least until we have a real revolution in the workplace.

Is remote work making Americans’ vacation starvation worse?

A handful of new surveys reveal many Americans are planning to work through the holidays, increasing both their vacation starvation and the risk of burnout. The dreary economy can’t help, but are new ways of working, including remote teams and constant connectivity, partly to blame?

Workaholism: an occupational hazard for web workers?

Web work has many benefits, but less discussed are the downsides. Several experts feel that there is at least one serious one: increased workaholism. Does being on the cutting edge of connectivity and evolving workstyles make web workers more vulnerable to becoming workaholics?

Here’s How Facebook Wants to Keep Its Engineers Happy

Last week, Facebook formally announced “Hackamonth,” an internal initiative that allows some engineers to leave their team to work on a side project of their choosing. The goal is to prevent burnout among the staff and should result in some cool new products.

Maximize Productivity Without Burning Out

I have definite workaholic tendencies that are starting to induce productivity-draining burnout. In addition to my freelance consulting practice, I am usually balancing a number of side projects, working on the board of a non-profit that I helped co-found, and attending various events around Portland to keep in touch with my freelancer peers and learn about new technologies. This isn’t the first time, I’ve had to deal with burnout. It usually creeps in slowly, and before I realize it, my work and technology hobbies have pushed everything else to the back burner. The feeling of burnout leaves me tired, stressed and less productive, so it’s time again for me to re-prioritize and take control to get my productivity back.

Regain Balance and Avoid Burnout

The trouble with not working a 9-to-5 office job is that often you work more, sometimes much more, than your cube-dwelling counterparts. The risk you run with an always-connected, always-working lifestyle, of course, is of getting burned out. And once that happens, not only will you end up exhausted, but both your work and your personal life will suffer.

A List Apart recently published a great article by Scott Boms, “Burnout,” that examines the stress, exhaustion and illness often associated with web work. Burnout is not just stress, he notes, but is caused by an “imbalance in an individual’s personal goals, ideals, and needs as related to their job.” So how can you regain that balance? Boms outlines several steps you can take, including: Read More about Regain Balance and Avoid Burnout

Can the WWE Pin Down Online Video?

World Wrestling Entertainment is in the midst of a big online video push. In November they served up 25 million video streams.

In India, Get GigaOM Alerts Via GupShup

Rakesh Mathur, co-founder of Junglee and an investor in the parent company of GigaOM recently launched GupShup, an SMS-based Twitter-meets-Group chat service that had over 4 million subscribers now. Unlike Twitter, they have spent their energies on making the service SMS friendly. Given that PC penetration remains low in India, and people love to SMS, GupShup has left PC browser to be used primarily for management of groups. We have set-up GigaOM group on GupShup. Check it out and get our alerts via SMS. In India send you can join your group by simply sending “Join gigaom” to 567673434.

How to Optimize the Founder’s Mind

Research shows that your brain function is both broadened and improved by “interdisciplinary exercise.” What does this mean? Be eccentric. Use your brain to think about lots of different things, even things that have nothing to do with one another. This builds new synapses, exercises existing ones, and simply makes you smarter.

OK, you’re thinking, but I’m founding a company. I don’t have time to think about anything other than cash flow and customer acquisition, much less take up new hobbies. But here’s one quick way to do become interdisciplinary: When you read, read stuff that has nothing to do with what your company does. (You can make time to read.)

Life Optimizer had a great post last week that explained three reasons why diversifying your reading is a shortcut to brains-building.

1. Avoid boredom
I don’t know about you, but reading the same topics again and again makes me bored. Even for topics I’m passionate about, I will be more refreshed if I also read other topics once in a while.

2. Arbitrage knowledge
The art of arbitrage is important for living smart, and diversifying your reading allows you to do knowledge arbitrage. Knowledge arbitrage means taking ideas from one field to be applied to another field. If you read only one or two topics, it’s difficult to do that.
3. Cross-pollinate ideas
Continuing the idea of arbitrage, not only can you borrow ideas from other fields, you can also combine ideas from different fields. Often it will give you “original” ideas since nobody has seen such combination before. Of course, you can only cross-pollinate idea if you have different kinds of idea to begin with, and that’s why you should diversify your reading.

It turns out this is a tried and true method, used by some of your business icons — like VC Michael Moritz and Apple founder Steve Jobs. Read More about How to Optimize the Founder’s Mind

Founder Burnout and How to Avoid It.

Courtesy of Brad Feld’s blog, we found a terrific set of posts today on the topic of burnout, an affliction that nearly all startup founders experience at some point in their careers. While it appeals to our entrepreneurial romanticism to “burn the candle at both ends,” burnout from working too hard can be far more destructive, personally and professionally, than all that excessive working was worth in the first place. (Just ask Om.)

Writes Feld:

Burning out is a chronic problem with entrepreneurs. In the early 1990’s – for a year before and after I sold my first company – I went through a tough period where I got very depressed. I held it together and got through it, but the memory of how I felt is never far away. I was completely burned out. I’ll be forever grateful to Amy and my business partner Dave for putting up with me during this time period since they were the ones that had to deal with the brunt of my depression.

Sound familiar? Are you suffering from burnout yet? Here’s a great post that outlines The Four Stages of Burnout. They are… Read More about Founder Burnout and How to Avoid It.