PREVENTING AND MINIMISING THE RISK OF BURNOUT IN OTHERS

In this chapter, I suggest a new way to think about burnout. I also offer you some practical tools that you can use to minimise the risk of burnout in people you lead, manage and work with. Of course, these tips also apply to you.

Previously, I talked about how burnout happens in systems. Within every system there are lots of subsystems. You are likely to work in one of the subsystems and have varying degrees of influence about how things work within that subsystem. You might be a leader, manager or supervisor, or you might just be someone who works there. However much influence you have, there are things you can do to make life a bit better and minimise the stresses that lead to burnout.

All of the ideas and tips in this chapter seek to make you and the people you work with more antifragile. In other words, you’ll not only cope better with the stresses of day-to-day life, but actually grow and become stronger as a result of those stresses.

Burnout and energy

We can think of well-being and its opposite, burnout, in terms of energy. Well-being is an abundance of energy within a person or a team. When you are feeling energetic, you’re enthusiastic, alert and up for a challenge. Conversely, when your energy levels are depleted, you feel physically tired, lacking enthusiasm and mentally exhausted. The three essential criteria that define burnout are exhaustion, detachment/cynicism and impaired work performance. All of these criteria are another way of describing depleted levels of energy.

BOX 6.1 THE TEAM AS A BATTERY

Earlier this year, I was asked to coach the new CEO of a failing technology company. I was told that this was a young, funky start-up company that should be doing well, but wasn’t. Unfortunately, the owner of the company had appointed one of his best friends to be CEO, and this person wasn’t coping at all well.

I arrived early and was asked to wait in the corner of the swish, brightly decorated open-plan office. The room was filled with young people dressed very casually - the typical tech company. But everybody looked fed up. This roomful of young, energetic people should have been buzzing with activity, but instead the atmosphere felt dead, like a black cloud was hanging over the room. I eventually saw the CEO, who didn’t feel that he needed coaching, believing that the failure was due to "all the idiots I’m surrounded with”. So nothing came of it in the end.

However, I learned something by reflecting on that experience. Organisations and teams are like batteries - stores of human energy. If the organisation and team are fully charged, then performance will be great and the atmosphere will crackle with excitement and energy. But if the organisation’s and team’s batteries are flat, then performance will be poor, as in the tech company.

 
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