In Make Even Smarter Choices

When you work with leaders of high growth companies, you might expect to see these high profile people “hit the wall,” where they can’t do it any longer or get depressed and angry – symptomatic of burnout.

Yet in my work as a strategic advisor, I haven’t seen it very often. And it leads me to ask  why?  

Rather than focusing on a list of what causes burn-out, I considered my experience with companies where burnout is rare. I realized there were seven commandments. They make a potent list that can help you not only avoid burnout but help your employees avoid it, too. Preventing burnout keeps us hard working people engaged and excited about what we do.

  1. Feeling connected to the purpose of the organization.  First and foremost why are you doing what you are doing? Do you have a higher purpose to your work? Maybe you’ve heard the story about the three bricklayers. The first said he was laying brick, the second said he was building a wall, and the third said he was building a cathedral. Seeing ourselves as part of something bigger, grander, or more worthwhile is essential when keeping ourselves motivated and high energy.

  2. Feeling appreciated.  All humans want to feel important. Talents and efforts need to be recognized in order for people to maintain high energy while using them. It often starts with the CEO appreciating everyone who reports directly to them. They model this behavior so that everyone does this for their staff.  The more personal and specific that feedback is, the more powerful it is:  Sasha, you were incredibly skillful in handling that negotiation.You made the client happy and the company looks good. I appreciate having you on our team. Thank you.  Some executives will from time to time send a handwritten note for a job well – done. That works too.

  3. Understanding how the work we do contributes to the overall success of the company/project.  Completing a task can have its own satisfaction, but seeing how it advances something bigger is best. Sometimes executives forget that their frontline people may not see the big picture and how they fit in. If you want to avoid burnout – tell them. If they solve a client problem and the client increases their order or sends a referral, let them know.

  4. Using our talents.  All of us are happier and more satisfied when we are doing activities that align with our talents. Using our talents takes less effort than doing something we have no natural inclination for. It’s important to realize that what energizes one person may deplete another. Smart leaders help their people identify what is energizing and seek ways to maximize this.

  5. Being part of a high-functioning team.  Business guru and author of many books, Pat Lencioni, talks about the  Five Dysfunctions of Teams. Highly functional teams have high levels of trust. This allows them to engage in conflict. They can disagree and air opinions and then come to an agreement and get a commitment. Only with commitment are we willing to be held accountable. Accountability leads to results. Take out any one of the five and the team won’t get results, and burnout sets in. Make sure your team is playing by the five function rule.  

  6. Fairness.  In North America, we value fair play. When we perceive things aren’t fair – salary, promotions, recognition or the like – many people “stop playing.” Worse, they may sabotage the efforts of others, creating an environment where getting results is more difficult than it should be, and leads to frustration and, yes, burnout.

  7. Having a degree of control over our work.  We all want to believe that we have some say about how we accomplish our results and that they are ours to deliver. The demand for increased flex time and being able to work from anywhere that characterizes today’s workplace are indicators. Smart people want a say. When we are treated like a cog in the wheel, it’s more likely we will burn out when there are unexpected demands (and there always are).

So as an employer or employee, if you are feeling tired, overwhelmed, depressed or angry, use this list to help identify what’s missing for you or for your employees. Be proactive, incorporating preventive measures to avoid burnout. When you do, everyone wins.


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