The Underlying Issues of the Term “Burnout”

Liberally using the term “burnout” is a sign of bigger problems. Here’s how to address them.

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Article first published in Business Collective

I heard from a big employer recently that some of his staff were suffering from burnout. Talent was falling by the wayside, and money was being wasted.

But in my experience, calling it burnout is too easy — and doesn’t lead to the proper responses. Burnout is a blanket term that can obscure other real issues that should be addressed, or better yet prevented. With attention and communication between staffer and manager (and more importantly a thoughtful diagnosis that goes beyond the catchall label of burnout), you, as a leader, can take the actions that save time and money and keep your talent happy and productive.

I’ve seen the term burnout used to cover a whole range of scenarios, including lack of sleep and/or time off, dissatisfaction with one’s work environment, anger towards management/co-workers and lack of progress within one’s role. 

Lumping these all under the catch-all heading is probably just a way of covering up a number of things that are fixable. It implies long hours and fatigue (though in some circles these are seen as a badge of honor!). And it can lead to the “easy cure” of giving the staffer a day off or a trip to the spa. But is this really going to fix things? Or will it just give the boss a feel-good moment while in reality it’s just papering over the cracks?

Here are some prompts for team leaders who want to head off these problems:

  1. Communicate: Keep communication between yourself and each individual team leader always open — and not just at review time. Be sensitive not only to their words but to the way they talk about their work, so you can spot the issues before they cause trouble.
  2. Understand: Be sure you really know what excites each member of your team. Remember that each one will have a different set of drivers that you need to understand so you can keep them motivated.
  3. Stimulate: If the project du jour is boring, make sure that the staffer has a second stimulating project to work on — one that will … Read more