Extinguish Burnout At Work

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I always used to think that burnout happened when you worked too hard for too long without any respite. It was the physical, mental, and emotional exhaustion that resulted. In the past, we’ve all experienced bouts of burnout that might have been cyclic, seasonal, or occasional. But lately, many of us have been living with it daily. With the downturn in the economy, companies have cut back on staff, funding, and resources to support all the work that needs to be done. In fact, as we struggle with having less, we’re being asked to do more. It’s like the wicked stepsisters in Cinderella. We’re trying to stuff a big foot into a tiny shoe and then being frustrated and surprised when it doesn’t fit.

However, there’s another aspect to burnout. It’s when your efforts don’t produce the results you expected. Let me give you an example. Most of us understand that there’s not a lot of money available for salary increases. So, even though we’re working longer hours and taking on more, we don’t really expect a raise or a big bonus. What we do expect is recognition for our contributions, appreciation for what we’ve accomplished (namely pulling rabbits from hats), and backup when we need it. It’s when we don’t get the things we expect out of all we put in that produces burnout. Burnout is more than working long and hard. It’s working long and hard and not getting what we feel is our fair due.

So, what can you do to prevent or alleviate burnout in your workplace or chapter? Here are some ideas.

  1. Lower your expectations so that they are realistic with past returns.
  2. Let people choose from a list of rewards when a job is completed well. Plaques may be cool to some, while time off may be coveted by others.
  3. End every big event or project with a celebration. In fact, you may want to create a celebration committee. I bet this committee position won’t be hard to fill.
  4. Make the work fun. Build in breaks, add activities, interject humor, provide snacks and treats.
  5. Focus on team output. Don’t burden a few, but spread the tasks out equally. Allow and encourage members to take parts of the job that are new to them or stretch their comfort zones.
  6. Realize when too much is too much and pull back. There’s a reason elevators post weight limits and have bells that give warnings when it’s exceeded. Correct the situation before the crash occurs.
  7. As situations change, take a hard look at past procedures and get rid of extraneous “stuff.” Change what you do, how you do it, how often it’s done and make the work fit the time and number of hands available. Analyze cost vs. benefit not only in terms of money, but people.
  8. Force individuals to take breaks. Discourage long hours, eating on the run, weekend catch up, vacations not taken, etc. After some time off, you can come back and get twice as much done than you would tackling a job dog tired. Attitude needs to be refreshed, just like a stuffy room.
  9. Look for creative ways to fill holes. Volunteers, interns, temps, barters, co-ventures can all be ways to add bodies. Equipment, furniture, and supply trades can shore up empty places and cabinets. Upgrading and sharing, like purchasing a new printer two people can use, might be better than each person wrangling with an outdated, close-to-non-functional one.

Burnout may be rigueur du jour at your workplace or chapter. But it doesn’t have to be. With a little thought and planning, you can turn your work life from havoc to haven.

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