6 contributors to burnout

According to the “Areas of Worklife” model, workload is only one of the six contributors to burnout.

Control, reward, fairness, community and values are the other five elements.

  1. Control

    Our need for control in modern life is often thwarted, but our sense of entitlement sometimes tells us it shouldn’t be. In the last century, we had much better handle on what work we need to do to be ‘good at our jobs’. As time has gone on, we’ve become less and less certain. Our roles are slippery and ill-defined, yet we feel more pressure to perform. We see uplifts in HR, communications, apps and standards, but they aren’t helping much.

    So, I think it’s natural for us to reach for the illusion of control – over job security, finances and performance. Sadly though, this makes us more miserable and erodes our sense of achievement at work.

    What can we do?

    Make sense of our roles at work and discover what success would look like. It’s worth having a chat with your boss about how they see your maximum contribution. Then focus most effort on the essentials of that and cut the rest.

  2. Workload

    It’s a myth that we have too much to do. It’s more likely we don’t know what to do, or how to prioritise to achieve required results – see above. We also have peer pressure to do things that add little value. For people-pleasers, 10x this.

    What can we do?

    Take back our time. The closer we get to understanding our core contribution, the more easily we can filter the rest. Trimming inessentials, we can set boundaries around our focus time – is it REALLY desirable to be available for instant response at all times? Or would we deliver better by assigning focus time? Saying No is our best tool. Use it often.

  3. Reward

    Many of us are unclear about what to do and feel overworked but under-utilized. We’re not being used for our strengths, or the skills we were hired for. Or we’re not being directed to do the work that matters. Organisational culture has changed and often no-one knows the score exactly. Others are as lost as we are.

    Lack of reward (personal, more than financial) is what drives most people over the edge to considering a career move.

    What can we do?

    Unfortunately, switching career will not improve reward. We don’t feel reward because we don’t believe in our own contribution. We can create our own sense of reward from a job well done, rather than peer feedback. The lack of formal recognition of success DOES matter, but when we’re pretty sure that our contribution is solid and counts for something within the organisation, it goes a long way.

  4. Fairness

    Was life ever fair? I doubt it. But work unpredictability combined with modern demands on our time push us hard and we feel hard done by. Our career paths veer off track. Wherever we are and whatever we do isn’t enough. That’s not fair, surely?

    What can we do?

    Constrain to what is useful, serves and gives value. Find out what’s the best use of our time. Try to make our team’s targets easier to meet, while ignoring the busywork, gossip and politics. Then simply stop waiting for life to be fair – because what’s the upside? Instead be grateful that we can work and have work. We need work to make sense of life. What would life look like without work?

  5. Community

    Many of us have lost our sense of community outside work – in school, religion, locale, sports and family. It can be hard to replace that at work, given turnover and office culture. But it’s not your job’s job to provide community, so create it or look for it elsewhere.

    What can we do?

    If we lack a sense of community at work, we can help create one. Find ways to support others – not in action, but maybe by listening or just taking 10 minutes break together.

    Look for other ways to get the depth of human contact we need. How can we offer this to others? How can we engage more fully with the spiritual, our family and friends? With ourselves?

  6. Values

    If our work is out of alignment with our values, it usually grinds us down. There may be a reason to stick with a job like this, but it may also be time to move on. Our values change over time and we outgrow jobs that would once have suited us.

    What can we do?

    Values friction is a huge cause of turnover, but we might look for evidence of where the organisation’s values DO fit ours.

    If we can’t find it, then consider what we can OFFER at work, that does align with our values.

Make a plan to fix your burnout

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