"Tumble outta bed and I stumble to the kitchen Pour myself a cup of ambition Yawn and stretch and try to come to life" Dolly Parton
Two clients in the past week have told me of times during their career where they needed to take an extended break from work due to extreme exhaustion. My client yesterday is a driven and successful businesswoman, managing a complex business with competing stakeholders in a large multinational organisation. She expressed her gratitude to her employer for holding her job while she took a “sabbatical”. Personally I do not believe a 'sabbatical' refers to a time when you take a year off off work as your wellbeing is significantly compromised.In addition, she is conflicted as she would like to see her father every evening, as he is unwell, yet she typically leaves work at about 10pm. Surprisingly, neither client used the word "burnout" to describe their exhaustion.
“Burnout is a distinct syndrome of exhaustion, depersonalisation and discouragement with a low sense of accomplishment or effectiveness,” Michael Leiter
Who is most susceptible to burnout?
According to recent research, people in extreme jobs are most susceptible to burn out. If someone works 60 or more hours-a-week, are high earners, and hold a position with five or more of the following characteristics, then they have an extreme job and are at risk of burnout:
- unpredictable workflow;
- tight deadlines and fast working pace;
- inordinate scope of responsibility;
- after-hours work events;
- availability to clients 24/7;
- responsibility for profit and loss;
- responsibility for mentoring and recruiting;
- frequent travel, often international;
- large number of direct reports; and
- physical presence at work, at least ten hours a day.
In my opinion as we have seen long hours, unpredictable work patterns, tight deadlines with fast pace, broad responsibility, "24/7 availability", become common workplace practices, “extreme” jobs, are on the rise, and exist at many levels in most industries.
What attracts people to these extreme jobs?
What I find frightening is that there is a culture in these jobs to be motivated by this mode of working.
Remember, no matter what job you do, if you are pushed beyond your ability to cope for long periods of time, you're likely to suffer burnout.
What are some side effects of burnout?
On a personal level your physical health and psychological wellbeing are compromised. Chances are you are not aligning your work-life balance or personal/family life to your values.
Professionally, there is an increase the incidence of errors, both technical and interpersonal.
Financially, you pay more for convenience because of exhaustion, (Uber, take ways etc..) “splurging” becomes a coping mechanism, a type of reward for the long hours, sometimes on a level that does not meet your personal budget.
What can be done to reduce the chances of burnout? On an industry level, it may be relevant to change the cultural norms associated with "extreme jobs". I know this seems unrealistic but based on some of the presentations at the safety and wellbeing conference I attended recently this is starting to happen in both construction and legal sector. On an Organisational level:Ensure jobs are designed properly and allocated to the right person.Sensible allocation of work, according to capacity, skill, and career aspirations. Job demands are realistic and employees have the resources, including physical and emotional to meet them.Reward and recognition is not just linked to billable hours, or physical hours worked, but a more balanced score card approach is taken.Anyone in a leadership position, needs to reinforce the message that long working hours does not necessarily lead to better job performance. Responding to emergencies at work is fine, but when "emergencies" become chronic or the norm, then its time to pause and identify what strategic changes that need to be made. Individual level Regular readers would be aware that the best way to minimise the chances of burnout is to look after your Wellbeing comprehensively. Beyond the recent themes of my blogs, remember that a realistic optimistic thinking style and lateral problem solving capacity is extremely helpful in tricky situations. Keeping an open line of communication with colleagues, family and friends about how you’re feeling and reaching out for support, whether it’s from friends and family, colleagues, or a health professional is essential when things start to go awry. Yesterday afternoon I was listening to a thought-provoking interview on the Eat Sleep Work Repeat podcast and heard about a great wellbeing hack. Laura Archer, was working in her dream job but felt she never had time to "get things done". So she made a list of all the different things she could do in a 30 minute lunch break. Not surprisingly she documented this experience in a blog and a book. Personally, what I found interestingly was the positive the impact this shift had on her general wellbeing, and her enjoyment of and energy at work. By spending one lunchtime a week in activities like playing chess, reading a novel, attending a music concert, learning a language, and knitting, she realised didn’t need to be leading her life as though she was waiting to retire or to for her next holiday.
‘You go on holiday to sit by the pool you don’t go on holiday and become an artist...”
Whilst holidays are marvellous, and I applaud organisations that push employees to use up their annual leave - even if it’s for financial reasons. Holidays are short well-earned breaks to be in different places with friends family etc.. and should not be a replacement for major shifts in behaviour. So what about my client? Her goal for coaching is to ensure that in the process of achieving her very challenging strategic goals, the wellbeing of herself and her team is not compromised. To be successful she is motivated to make necessary changes at an organisational, team and individual level.
If you want to watch the 1980's classic movie 9 to 5 about three female secretaries who decide to get revenge on their horrible boss you can rent it on youtube.
Are healthcare middle management jobs extreme jobs?
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Hewlett, S.A. and Luce, C.B. (2006), "Extreme jobs: the dangerous allure of the 70-hour workweek", Harvard Business Review, Vol. 84 No. 12, pp. 49-59.
Caluori, A. (2019) Under pressure. Occupational Health & Wellbeing; 71, 1 12-14.
Recognising and combating burnout at work, Professor Michael Leiter Professor of Industrial Organisational Psychology, School of Psychology, Deakin University
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Rosenbloom, Tova; Eldror, Ehud. (Jun 2017) Perfectionism as a Moderator of the Association of Work Connectivity Behavior After-hours (WCBA) and Burnout. North American Journal of Psychology; Winter Garden Vol. 19, Iss. 2,
Scanlan, J.N. & Still M. (2019) Relationships between burnout, turnover intention, job satisfaction, job demands and job resources for mental health personnel in an Australian mental health service. BMC Health Services Research 19, 62