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Work burnout: causes and cures

Written 24 September, 2018, 3 minutes to read

Work burnout can happen to the best of us and it isn’t simply a matter of “working too much”. While stress and long hours are obvious contributors, we often take for granted that work exhaustion is often caused by a sum of more subtle factors. To help protect yourself and your colleagues from the worst of it, keep these serial causes of work burnout in mind.

Work overload

Managing an unsustainable workload kills your energy – whether that’s an impossible deadline or a ridiculously fiddly task. Competing business objectives, internal tasks and fluctuations in client work all add an extra layer of pressure, often leading to a frustrating and irregular ebb and flow of work.

Cure

Effective resource management and planning are crucial. Let the client work lifecycle lead and work “nice to have” tasks around it. If your client cycles are downright unreasonable, renegotiate them. Keep a close eye on the workload of your team at all times – use the help of automatic tracking tools like Timely to painlessly monitor who is overloaded and who has spare capacity.

Inequality

Whether perceived or real, unequal treatment among your team breeds resentment and kills spirit. The biggest culprits include:

  • Unfair workloads
  • A culture of favoritism
  • Unequal pay or benefits
  • Arbitrary promotions
  • Poor dispute resolution practices
  • Lack of open communication

Cure

This one’s simple: build a robust system that protects you from all the above! And make all your approaches and measures visible to everyone; employees want assurance that they’re working in an impartial workplace, so the use of standardized tools, scales and procedures should be encouraged.

Community breakdown

A positive work community – characterized by effective collaboration, positive social interactions and openness – is vital in keeping work burnout at bay. It allows people to quickly address problems, support in times of need and sustain each other. But it’s also rather fragile – the absence of feedback, a disillusionment with work, and poor conflict resolution all work to undo it.

Cure

Make relationship building a priority rather than an afterthought. Consider your team’s social support systems and how you can include others. Encourage interactions, create space for team-building and take every opportunity to add humor and optimism into your working day.

Personal challenges

This is a highly delicate one. Happily, we all have our own unique set of personal issues and worries that can steal energy away from our work. Anxiety, depression and emotional exhaustion can combine to form one very powerful and very dangerous work burnout.

Cure

Check in with colleagues often. While reinforcing their professional contributions is all very well, building connection as another complex human being is much more valuable. Make an effort to listen, be available and take an interest in what’s going on. Perhaps more importantly, act early if you can tell something is wrong. Offer support, ask how you can help and show you’re there if they need you.

Incompatibility with working styles

When it comes to working styles, one size definitely doesn’t fit all. Blanket imposing a particular approach to a piece of work (such as full-on collaboration over individual exploration) can massively demotivate members of the team. Being forced to depart from your preferred methods and learn a different approach you fundamentally don’t respond to can completely wipe you out.

Cure

Always take a pluralist approach. Avoid pushing a single way of working and involve employees in shaping their own workflows and deliveries. Give people the space and respect to manage their schedules and play to their productive strengths – consider flexible working policies and create a work space that enables different work styles.

Avoiding burnout essentially comes down to giving people control and making wellbeing a priority. People need to feel comfortable and trusted to work the way they like best, as equals in a supportive team that actively looks out for them. While it’s good to recognize our own individual triggers, avoiding work burnout starts and ends with compassionate, empathetic leadership.

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