As a career and executive coach, I’ve spent hundreds of hours working with many clients who have dealt with, or are on the verge of burnout. I’ve also dealt with burnout myself, and I can speak firsthand about how draining, disappointing and frustrating it is.
It’s frustrating because more often than not, burned-out employees are enthusiastic about contributing their talents and value, and yet, they become completely drained and disappointed, when they realize that the work environment they support is not nearly as dedicated to them, as they are to it.
Burnout is typically addressed with a focus on what individuals can do to avoid it themselves. And, while these types of approaches are helpful, there’s still more to the burnout equation. So, let’s face the elephant in the room. A person’s ability to create healthy work habits, involves her/his company’s support.
This begs an important question – how can employers take more responsibility for providing healthy work environments? To assist with some answers, I’ve written a letter. It’s addressed to companies who could benefit from learning why their most valued employees may be on the verge of burnout.
If you think your company is ready to have an honest dialogue about what it will reallytake to minimize burnout and turnover, then feel free to adjust this for your own use. I double-dog dare you.
In the spirit of good intent, as well as service to the company’s best interest, I’ve decided that it’s time for me to speak-up. I’ve tried to reconcile balancing my life, while continuing to put my best foot forward here – and it just doesn’t seem to be working.
While the success of this company is important to me, so are many other things in my life. Yet, all too often, I feel like I need to neglect other important values of mine, in order to merely survive here.
I understand that it’s not up to you, or anyone else, to make my life work. Happiness is a choice. Yet, for some reason, I’ve been choosing to please this company at the expense of myself – and it has left me feeling physically, emotionally and spiritually drained.
So, here’s why I’m burned-out and this is what you can do about it:
1. I’m tired of putting the company’s mission and values ahead of my own. How would it look if the company took the time to learn about my personal values?
You will find more success in the growth and development of your employees, if you begin to care about what matters to them, while integrating it with what matters to you.
2. In addition to being a solid contributor, I’m also a spouse, a parent, a sibling, someone’s child, and a friend. I am a human being with emotional needs, and not a cold, steel machine. How might you treat me differently, if you considered my role with other important people in my life?
Respect for other peoples’ humanity should be an ante-to-play at any company. Pay attention to your work culture’s stress management and feedback tendencies. Nurture a culture that commands respect for one another, regardless of titles or circumstances.
3. It seems to take a personal crisis for my life to take precedence over this job. What could you do to support my needs for undistracted personal space – at reasonable times like evenings, weekends and vacations?
Create more space for employees to take real breaks to renew their energy – it will go a long way towards increased productivity.
4. I often feel incapable of doing anything well because everything is always a priority here. Sometimes I wonder why I’m neglecting the rest of my life, only to contribute such mediocrity to so many different things. What changes might you see in employee performance, if you committed to top priorities, and reconsidered many of your inconsequential demands?
Think about and communicate the company’s top priorities and allow your employees to focus on them, instead of diluting their contributions with an endless amount of trivial distractions.
5. The act of taking a vacation is often more stressful than the job itself. How critical is anyone’s sole presence, really, to the success of this company?
Equip your team to easily absorb the absence of other people. Cross-train your employees, and make sure that no single person’s absence could ever compromise the day-to-day business.
6. My hard work and dedication often seems to go unnoticed. Where can you find more time to regularly notice and celebrate the great work of your individual people?
Appreciate your employees for every single win, big or small, regularly and often. Acknowledgement and celebration is, quite possibly, the most cost-effective and surefire way of keeping people loyal and motivated.
7. Politics are likely the most draining aspect of all. With everything else on my plate, I have little capacity to worry about whether or not my perspective will rattle the wrong person.
Cultivate a work culture where varying perspectives, from employees at all levels, are valued as necessary components towards progress and innovation. Teach everyone that the process of argumentation is not only productive; it also looks and feels a lot different than mere arguing.
8. Some people are not held to the same standards as others, so I often feel forced to compensate for what others are not getting done. What are you doing to ensure that all of your leaders are contributing to a high performance culture?
Activation of ideas is more valuable than lip service. Open your eyes to who is really contributing, versus those who are only talking about it, and measure performance accordingly.
9. I’m bored with most aspects of my job – each day is starting to feel a little more like Ground Hog’s Day. What are you doing to develop and grow your talent?
Give employees more opportunities to show-off what they do best, as well as regularly tackle new and exciting challenges.
10. Our mission statement looks a lot different on paper, than it feels in real life. How much do your leaders really believe in, and own, the company’s mission statement?
Make sure your leaders are willing and capable of walking the talk, or reassess your values all together. If what is preached doesn’t seem important at the highest levels, then it’s pointless to expect anyone else to take it seriously.
So, the solution to avoid burnout is not solely up to me, or any of your employees for that matter. Yes, we can contribute to building a supportive work culture; but ironically, this is only the case if the company, itself, is supportive of it.
As with all big decisions, you have options. You can disregard this letter and view it as nothing more than words from a whining employee, or you can embrace it as a real opportunity to learn how to better attract and retain more amazing people. For the benefit of the company, as well as of its current and future employees, I hope you will choose the latter.
Your Amazing, Burned-out Employee