Is Your Workplace Burning You Out?
It is no secret that workplace burnout has reached epidemic proportions. Many hard-working professionals experience at least one of the three dimensions of burnout as described by the leading burnout expert, Dr Christina Maslach:
- Emotional exhaustion. “I can’t do this anymore.”
- Depersonalisation. “I can’t be bothered.”
- Decreased sense of personal accomplishment. “What difference do I make anyway?”
The result is not only poor performance on the job, but there is also a cost to the organisation through absenteeism, low morale and high staff turnover.
However, focusing on employee burnout is only part of the picture. Burnout doesn’t happen in a vacuum; it happens in workplaces that predispose people to burning out.
In addition to her extensive work on describing and unpacking the nature of burnout, Maslach has also worked with Dr. Michael P. Leiter to develop a model of the organisational context of burnout. The Areas of Worklife Scale describes six areas of worklife which have a strong relationship with job burnout. These areas of worklife are:
- Workload. Too much to do in too little time, with too few resources.
- Control. The extent to which you feel you can influence the decisions that affect your work.
- Reward. This doesn’t only have to do with financial reward, but also non-financial rewards such as recognition, as well as intrinsic rewards such as pride in a job well done.
- Community. Toxic bosses, overly competitive colleagues and unresolved conflict in the workplace fuel feelings of isolation and increase the risk of burnout.
- Fairness. Transparency and fairness regarding pay, how workload is distributed and how disciplinary and assessment procedures are conducted all contribute to how people feel about the fairness of their workplace.
- Values. To what extent do your personal values align with those of your organisation? A mismatch between personal and organisational values may lead to feeling that you are “selling out” on what’s important to you, which doesn’t bode well for your performance and engagement at work.
Burnout isn’t a personal failing. It certainly doesn’t mean that you are “weak”. Burnout is a systemic issue that requires a systemic approach, to ensure that both people and organisations thrive.
It therefore makes sense that in any discussion about workplace burnout, that interventions do not only focus on individual coping strategies (e.g. resilience training, stress management tools) but also pay attention to workplace interventions to address the conditions that drive and perpetuate burnout.