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Six Ways To Avoid Workplace Burnout

We’ve all seen it. A seemingly innocuous event triggers a co-worker to explode, or a reliable employee becomes overly cynical and critical of the company, or a solid performer has a significant drop in productivity and becomes detached and disengaged.  

These are all signs of burnout, a condition that plagues our over-stressed workforce. It's common where an intense, stressful work environment exists. Burnout could be costing you and your company untold amounts of productivity and workplace satisfaction, much less bottom line profits.

Burnout is rather mysterious. It affects people in hidden ways and effective leaders must uncover and bring root causes to the surface if they desire to build leaders who last. Many times, work-related stress exacerbates the condition, but plenty of times there are things at play outside of work that add to its cumulative effect.

When our family moved to Arkansas from north Idaho, one of my daughters had severe allergic reactions to a variety of events, like biting into a piece of fruit. Medical tests found she was slightly allergic to the fruit. The allergist explained that her immune system was like a cup and being in Little Rock (with one of the top 100 highest pollen counts in America) filled her cup with some fairly big rocks. Then he explained that having pets in our house would add smaller but substantial sized rocks to her cup, and things like dust mites and dirty air conditioner filters were like adding sand into the cup's remaining space. Finally, biting into a piece of fruit was like pouring water into the already full cup, causing it to overflow.   

Burnout is much the same. There are usually large items (personal loss, family or work related issues) that are major contributors with many smaller issues adding to the cumulative stress. Once the tipping point is reached and the “straw that breaks the camel’s back” is thrown into the system, volatility results.

What can you do about it? How can you recognize it? Here are six suggestions that will not only help you, but assist others through those times where burnout could potentially happen:

1. Look for areas of greatest stress intensity

Intensity and stress of any kind (physical, emotional, mental or even spiritual) are precursors to burnout. Intensity in any area affects the whole. In each case, the solution is simply a break from the area of stress. As a former researcher engineer, the only way I could recover from the intense mental stress of engineering design was to rest my brain. A mental break did wonders for me (one of the most effective methods I found was to put on headphones and play classical music really loud). For others who may have many physical demands from their job, rest and relaxation are the only solutions. Remember, there are reasons why football seasons are only several months long. The body simply cannot endure that kind of punishment without extended periods of physical rest.  

Where do you see intensity of stress? Be especially alert to grief, where emotional intensity stemming from loss exists. Grief makes its way to the surface in surprising ways and should never be discounted as a significant source contributing to an employee's drop in performance.

This is especially important if the stress is corporate in its origins.  

2. Go below the surface

We have a saying around our workplace: "the reason is never the reason.” Getting people to admit what’s really at the core of the issue is like mining for gold. It takes effort and a willingness to invest in those you care about the most.