I recently read an overall excellent guide on burnout for managers. Here’s a few of my key take-aways.

Burnout is a psychological state caused by prolonged stress from a job.

There are three key characteristics of burnout:

  • Overwhelming exhaustion.
  • Feelings of cynicism.
  • And a sense of ineffectiveness.

The above characteristics could manifest in different combinations. Also the intensity could be distributed unevenly. This was illustrated well in the stories in the guide. I suppose, ultimately, burnout incapacitates us beyond a sense of ineffectiveness.

burnout is really a ‘stress experience within a social environment’.

Burnout occurs in the context of one’s environment. People have different responses and levels of resilience. It is, however, unfair to put the full responsibility of burning out onto the individual.

The JD-R model classifies every occupation into two general categories: job demands and job resources.

This model of looking at the problem is simple. I like it because it intuitively feels as first principles. Managers can affect the context in which potential burnout occurs by affecting the job demands and job resources. This is the balancing act of every team manager. What resources can be made available for people such that we can cope with high job demands?

Here’s the bad news: we know very little about recovering from burnout. What we do know are two things:

  • Individual interventions don’t work — and by individual interventions we mean interventions while the person continues to be at the workplace that caused the burnout.
  • If you remove yourself from that working environment, you will recover.

The second point is crucial. Something needs to change and it doesn’t mean a person needs to resign. It means adapting or changing the role of the individual significantly enough so that they can recover. You can’t expect that a person will just regain their step in the same environment that led them to burn out in the first place.

An aspect I would have wished for the guide to cover is circumstances outside of work. There is no deficit of what to worry about on an any given day. The pandemic, war, climate crisis… all cause substantial anxiety in the lives of many of us. In that sense, factors outside of the work place also could contribute to burnout.

Remember to replenish your resources.

Photo by Steve Johnson