Work Burnout is a (Preventable) Epidemic

August 28, 2017 Dawn Burke

Listen to our interview with Dawn Burke and Tim Sackett in the latest episode of WorkHuman Radio, embedded at the top of this post.

I love french fries. When I was in college, for about one semester I worked at a local fast food chain. Pretty much every meal I had during my shifts included french fries. After a few months of a diet consisting of 50% fries, I lost that loving feeling.

I like “House Of Cards.” I binge watched every season until this one. After so many episodes, the thrill was gone.

I love theatre. I was an involved in theatre consistently for about 15 years. As soon as one show was over, I started working on another. I loved it, until one day I put down my script and never went back.

What do these have in common?

  • Commitment
  • Time
  • Energy
  • Joy
  • Desire
  • Indulgence

What has been the common result?

  • Burnout

It’s not surprising I brought these same traits into my professional life. It’s also not surprising I became severely burned out a few times along the way. It’s what I do, apparently! At least I’m consistent.

The traits above aren’t bad traits. Even indulgence isn’t all bad if you are indulging in things that bring forth a positive outcome. But there is a much greater price to pay with job burnout than just taking a break from watching a show or gaining 5 pounds of french fry weight.

Some fundamental truths:

  • Burnout is an epidemic. You are not alone.
  • Leaders have proven unable or unwilling to monitor work overload in any meaningful way.
  • Burnout is a killer.
  • Burnout cycles are predictable.

These truths are actually good news for all of us stuck in a continuous cycle of burnout. You are not alone and signs of burnout are predictable. Knowing those two things, you may have all support you need to to control of your workload and stay healthy. Reflect on your life and assess if you’ve continually fallen into a “burnout cycle” trend. Take some action and experiment with some solutions.

Here a few things HR pros or culture advocates can do to help employees mitigate burnout:

  • Be aware the burnout epidemic is real. Often leaders don’t realize burnout is a threat to employees. Leaders can’t mitigate burnout if the problem isn’t on their radar.
  • Notice if employees’ moods change. If the carefree worker turns cynical, or the high-performing team starts to lose focus, leaders need to determine why. Don’t assume these employees are simply “malcontents.”
  • Offer flexible scheduling. There is little excuse to insist employees work from the office Monday through Friday, 40 hours a week. If an employee needs flexibility to take care of personal issue, or to bypass bumper-to-bumper traffic, explore the option. In addition, research shows there is a direct correlation between the amount of flexibility a leader gives with a positive employee experience.
  • Allow employees “islands of downtime.” Anne Marie Slaughter coined that phrase, implying we need to find simple ways to de-stress. For instance, have your one-on-one meeting while taking a walk.
  • Get crystal clear on priorities. When employees don’t know what their main objectives are, they don’t know where to focus. When employees don’t know which fire to fight, most will try to fight them all. Being spread this thin exhausts employees and usually impacts results negatively.
  • Help employee define their “purpose.” Purpose-driven work gives employees an energy that can’t be duplicated!

Hopefully employees, HR pros, and culture advocates can work together and incorporate a few of these ideas into the workday. Do all you can to address burnout before it overcomes you or your teams. I’m afraid if you wait for corporate leaders to insist you take on less for the greater good, you’ll be waiting a very long time. And apparently, in the case of burnout, it’s the waiting that quite literally could be killing you.


Work Burnout is a (Preventable) Epidemic @dawnhburke #workhuman
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