What is burnout really? And how to prevent it.


Burn out.  What is that exactly?  What to do about it?

I heard from a big employer recently that some of his staff were suffering from burn out.  It made me wonder what it is exactly, how it manifests.  I suspect it is a blanket term that covers the following types of scenarios

“I am really tired – working late nights and weekends and not getting any time off.  My energy is low and my focus is failing.  It gets hard to drag myself back in to work.”

“I have been working for this place about 18 months now. When I got the job it seemed really exciting, with terrific creative opportunities on the table.  But I have started to realize that the work we actually do is not that good.  I don’t have anything new that’s good enough to show, so my portfolio is suffering – soon it won’t be good enough to get my own job back!”

“I really can’t deal with these people any more.  My boss is a micromanager, my co-workers are crazy-competitive – they talk a good line about collaboration and teamwork but that is not how they act.  I can’t stand it.”

“I have been running so hard at this job but don’t seem to make any progress.  Where are the raises, promotions, better projects: anything to make it all feel worthwhile and like I am moving myself forward in some way?  Some days I just feel like saying “I’m so outta here!”

Using the term burn out is probably just a way of covering up something that is fixable.  It implies long hours and fatigue (which in some circles are seen as a badge of honor!)

But let’s face it when you are working on a project you love with people you love, then you never get tired, right?  You can’t wait to get back to it and you’ll burn the midnight oil for as long as it takes.  You are in the flow and you feel alive and rewarded.

So OK.  Burn out means that enthusiasm and performance have fallen off for some reason that could well have been foreseen and forestalled, either by the staffer concerned, or by the manager.  Even if you didn’t see it coming, it’s never too late to consider the root causes and treat them.

What I am getting at is that burn out is usually something else.  It is something that you should be able to spot – and you should be able to forestall.  With good attention and good communication between staffer and manager this need never be a problem.


*  Still of Franka Potente in Run Lola Run