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  • Writer's pictureJon Mechan

Watch Out for Burnout

I don't know if it's specifically related to the pandemic or just to how the modern world is impacting us, but it feels like people are more susceptible to burnout than ever before.

In fact, according to some surveys as many as 75% of workers have experienced burnout at some point during their careers.

This is a huge problem, because burnout impacts both physical and mental health, damages personal relationships, and can result in long term issues like depression and anxiety.

How can you look for signs of burnout in yourself and in your team?

Burnout Causes

Interestingly, burnout isn't necessarily only caused by too much work. According to Dr Christina Maslach and Michael P Leiter, who wrote the book "The Burnout Challenge", it is caused by six forms of mismatch:

  • Work overload

  • Lack of control

  • Insufficient rewards

  • Breakdown of community

  • Absence of fairness

  • Value conflicts

You may notice that only one of those directly relates to workload, although several could be impacted by having too much on your plate. Many of these items are in fact more related to organizational culture, appropriate levels of delegation, compensation, and other motivating factors.

Not so helpful for this sort of burnout

Take an Inventory

There are two ways to use the list above - have a look at it for yourself and for your team.

For yourself, consider each of the areas. Write down the answers to the following questions. If you are working with a team member that you suspect is at risk of burnout, you could use these questions or varations of them to explore how you might be able to help them.

Work Overload

  • How frequently is your workload higher than you can manage?

  • For some people being busy is a good state to be in - how will you know when it's too much?

Lack of Control

  • What level of autonomy do you have in your role?

  • Do you have the appropriate level of delegated authority to achieve your aims?

Insufficient Rewards

  • How are you recognized for doing a good job?

  • What are your motivators (both intrinsic and extrinsic) and how well are they satisfied?

Breakdown of Community

  • How psychologically safe is your team and your workplace?

  • What support do you have and is it enough?

Absence of Fairness

  • Do you feel that you are treated fairly?

  • Are you compensated appropriately for the work you do?

Value Conflicts

  • What are your values?

  • What are the stated and unstated organizational values?

  • Where are your and the organizational values in conflict?


Based on your answers to the above, what is missing for you or for your team member? Where are the gaps?

There are no quick and easy solutions to burnout - the trite advice to 'take a break and eat healthily' is at best a bandaid - but if you have a look at the potential causes you can identify potential approaches to making things better.

For some of these, a new role or even a new job might be necessary. For others you might be able to tackle them by talking to your leadership and seeing if you can adjust the culture within your organization.

Bear in mind that examining these areas can also help you identify potential warning signs in advance.

As usual, I'll leave you with a question: What would you need to change to avoid burnout?

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