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    Burnout; Personal Problem or Organizational Issue?

by Cindy Ventrice

Many of the employees at a large, established high-tech company dread going to work each morning, and when they arrive they tend to be apathetic and unproductive. They are experiencing burnout.

What happened to the enthusiasm and energy that they felt when they were new hires? They will tell you that although they are paid well, they don't feel recognized or appreciated for their work; their bosses aren't fair or don't communicate effectively; the people they work with aren't supportive or their job doesn't provide them with new challenges.

These employees are burned out, and nearly all will look for new work within the next 16 months.

Most of us have experienced burnout at one time or another. We feel a lack of passion for the very work that used to energize us. The day to day frustrations outweigh any perceived rewards. We have lost our enthusiasm.

What causes burnout?

Do we, as the name implies, overdo it; trying to be everything to everyone; burning so hot and so fast that we are consumed by the effort?
Is burnout something that happens to us because of a demotivating work environment?

Could we have prevented our own burnout simply by pacing ourselves, so that we had time to refuel?
Is burnout inevitable in some organizations?

Most organizations view burnout as an individual problem; something that can be resolved with a good stress management course. The truth is organizational dynamics cause most burnout. Focusing solely on how the individual responds to those dynamics is irresponsible and costly.

          When individuals suffer, organizations suffer. When employees burn out:

  • productivity and quality go down

  • absenteeism goes up

  • creativity and innovation come to a halt

  • stress related illnesses increase

  • health care costs climb

  • worker's compensation claims go up

  • turnover rates escalate

Organizations can't afford not to address the issues that are causing burnout. The cost of employee burnout is staggering.

A significant cause of burnout is an excessive workload. We are in the midst of a labor crises; openings go unfilled in most organizations. How can we possibly reduce workload when we can't hire enough good workers to pick up the slack? Good question. Let's start by looking at some of the other causes of burnout and what can be done about them.

Clarify and communicate your organization's values and goals. The burned out employee frequently wonders "What's the point?" They know they are enduring a lot and they want to know why. Employees can handle stressful situations best when they understand the purpose and value of their work.

Reward behaviors that promote organizational values and goals. 44% of employees say they never receive recognition. The burned out employee wants to know, "What's the point of doing good work, if no one notices?" Not only do employees want to do work that is of value, they want to be valued for that work.

Offer employees control over how they accomplish goals. The worst burnout occurs in jobs that have high responsibility, and low control. To avoid burnout, increase the individual's control over how they reach their goals.

But what if your employees already have control over how they reach your organization's clearly stated goals, and are recognized both for their efforts and accomplishments? What if the workload is still producing burnout? Simple. Reduce the individual's workload. It sounds like heresy, but in reality it's simple math; one enthusiastic employee working eight hours will accomplish more than two burned out employees putting in 12 hour days.

Recommended Reading:

burnout.jpg (31651 bytes)          The Truth About Burnout

Copyright Cindy Ventrice, 2000

Cindy Ventrice of Potential Unlimited has been a consultant/trainer  since 1984. Potential Unlimited provides relationship building solutions that improve morale, productivity and profitability.

She can be reached at 831-476-4224, or

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