December 27, 2009
Managing the throttle: Attitude, 'culture of candor' can help prevent burnout
Scripps Howard News Service
In these times of low profits and high unemployment, what people used to call “burnout” has become for many the new normal.
Stressed out? Check. Anxious? You bet. Feeling overworked? Only during waking hours.
Dr. Srini Pillay, an executive business coach for 10 years and an expert on stress and anxiety reduction, believes that burnout is damaging not only to workers but also to the companies who pay them.
Burnout in the work force, he says, leads to lower productivity and higher absenteeism, tardiness and turnover, all of which Pillay says costs U.S. companies from $75 billion to $160 billion annually.
“Most people assume that feeling burned out means they’re weak or have a poor attitude,” says Pillay, a psychiatrist and CEO of NeuroBusiness Group in Massachusetts.
What are the causes of job burnout?
The Mayo Clinic reports that the key to overcoming job burnout is to understand what’s causing it. Burnout can result from:
Lack of control. Perhaps you’re unable to influence decisions that affect your job, such as which hours you’ll work or which assignments you get. You also may be unable to control the amount of work that comes in.
Unclear job expectations. Examples include uncertainty over what degree of authority you have and not having the necessary resources to do your work..
Dysfunctional workplace dynamics. This could include working with an office bully, being undermined by colleagues or having a boss who micromanages your work.
Mismatch in values. If your values differ from the way your company does business or handles employee grievances, it will wear on you.
Poor job fit. Working in a job that doesn’t fit your interests and skills is certain to become more stressful over time.
Burnout is not simply a matter of an overwhelming workload, though that’s often a component. Rather, Pillay says, it comes from “a mismatch between what people are and what they have to do,” a situation often caused by a communication breakdown in the workplace.
Steven South, general manager at national outplacement company Lee Hecht Harrison, agrees. “If you’ve got the wrong person in the wrong seat, that can lead to burnout. But if you’re aligned perfectly with a job you love, working a 12-hour day isn’t going to burn you out.”
South believes that technology, as much as the economy, is responsible for those feeling the singe of burnout. In today’s business world, he notes, information from a sales report can be collected, disseminated throughout a sales force, discussed by teleconference and acted upon -- all within 45 minutes. It’s a pace that can put tremendous stress on everyone.
The art of good management is “knowing how to manage the throttle,” he says.
“It is definitely more of an art than a science.”
Pillay is a proponent of “social intelligence,” a concept brought to the fore by psychologist Edward Thorndike in the 1920s that puts a premium on effective interpersonal interaction. Pillay’s company coaches managers on those skills.
One recommendation he has for workers who find their jobs intolerable is to remind themselves that the situation is temporary. Then they should start preparing for the eventual opportunity to move on.
“When we are under more strain is actually the time that we should be thinking about how we can make changes and not just hold our breath,” Pillay says.
South suggests that companies cultivate “a culture of candor, where employees can talk about their questions, concerns and stressors without fear.”
Workers, he adds, should “find ways to get better at what you do best and improve on your areas of weakness.”
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