Job Burnout

As with many of my blogs, what I write about is in real time.  And as I write, I’m dealing with one of my key employees who is on the verge of burnout.

Situation

Being a small company, two things we struggle with are cross training and balancing workloads.  Our departments are so specialized that it is difficult to shift either work or staff from one department to another and still be efficient.

Currently, one department is swamped. Finding experienced help to alleviate the individual workload is nearly impossible.  These guys are working long hours and are frequently under pressure from other departments and outside groups to meet deadlines and project expectations.

My manager told me this morning that he feels like he is “on the edge and if anything unexpected happens today, he is going to topple off.”  Those were his words and were completely uncharacteristic of his normal personality.

The moment I heard his statement, I realized I had a crisis on my hands.

Burnout

In researching burnout, my manager is exhibiting all of the symptoms of burnout.  These symptoms include:

  • being cynical or critical of work,
  • dragging yourself to work,
  • lack of energy,
  • lack of satisfaction, and
  • disillusionment.

Initially, I would blame my manager’s burnout from a cyclical backlog of work. But, through my research, I have come to understand that the workload is more of a symptom than a cause.  Burnout is caused by:

  • lack of control,
  • unclear job expectations,
  • dysfunctional workplace dynamics,
  • lack of social support, and
  • work-life imbalance.

This overwhelmed department and its manager have all of those characteristics to some degree.

Solution

The first solution is for business owners to be aware of the causes of burnout and be vigilant for them.  We, as business leaders, can impact all five of the causes of burnout listed above.

If an employee or department is experiencing a large increase in work demands, then we need to support them not only by attempting to mitigate the influx of work but by monitoring their job and supporting them.

Specifically, we can.

  1. Manage the stressors that lead to burnout. We can clarify job expectations and project control issues.  We can intervene between employees whose personalities occasionally clash; if personalities are a problem during normal work times, they will explode as burnout nears.
  2. Focus on attitudes. We need to talk to our employees who are in crisis mode to monitor their attitudes and work to improve them through encouragement and reminders.
  3. Find support. If you are not the correct person to talk to the employee who is verging on burnout, find someone who is.  Make sure there is always ongoing communication with the employee.
  4. Encourage exercise, extra sleep, and participation in other interests. There may be days when you need to send the employee home so they can rest and get away from work.

The Bible

A general theme of the five causes of burnout listed above is really over self-reliance.  Asking for help is the last thing my manager who is suffering from burnout will do.  He has always done it all himself.  For him, it’s a matter of pride.

The Bible teaches that work is part of God’s calling and is what is designed to provide a sense of meaning and purpose (Genesis 1:28, 2:15, Colossians 3:23, 2 Thessalonians 3:10).  But just as important as work, God calls us to rest.  He gave us the Sabbath (Genesis 2:2-3, Exodus 20:8-11, Mark 2:27) and the urging to get away when the pressures become too great (Mark 6:31).

The characters in the Bible also suffered from burnout.  Moses, Elijah, Jesus, and the apostles of the early church all had periods where they just needed to stop and rest.  In all cases, God replenished them.

Matthew 11:28-30 says.

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

God promises to replenish those who are suffering from burnout.

As owners and managers, there are many things we can do to help an employee who is suffering from burnout, whether they ask for it or not. But as we do our part to help, let’s not forget that God is available to help as well.