The Startup podcast that tracks the real-time evolution of a podcast business, Gimlet Media, aired an episode titled, Burnout.

The episode comprised mostly interviews held together with a narrative that got across some of the core qualities of burnout.

The beginning point was the exhaustion arising from long hours of intense work. A new business bridges the gap between its limited resources and its aspirations by over-extending its people. The business may lack the money to hire who it needs or the right talent may take a long time to find.

But people can sustain extraordinary effort when they believe in what they’re doing and when they have hope for a rewarding, sustainable future.

The podcast show those beliefs becoming shaky. Producers expressed concerns about maintaining high quality production when working through their exhaustion. They felt intimidated by staffing reduction that would arise from a kay person’s looming paternity leave. Their hopes diminished when they heard their boss be dismissive of their request for enlisting additional editorial expertise.

These conversations got across that in addition to exhaustion, the experience of burnout includes losing the capacity for intense creative involvement and losing confidence in the quality or importance of the work.

The power of the episode comes from the depth it gives to the burnout experience. It goes beyond the usual narrative of exhaustion through overwork. While exhaustion creates the opportunity for burnout, the definitive parts of the syndrome are the diminished engagement and discouragement that occurs when hopes diminish.

The episode also pointed towards action that could make a difference through listening.

More on that later.


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In our cover story for the January 2015 issue of Scientific American Mind (Conquering Burnout), Christina Maslach and I reflected on the challenge of planned change.

The beginning of a new year prompts lots of talk about how hard it is to stick to resolutions. Planet Money reported on gyms where half of the members never visited during their entire year’s membership. And some of them then renewed that membership. Following through on good intentions is tough.

The challenges are even greater when addressing job burnout.

The first point is that a workgroup is a matrix. Once within this matrix, no action is totally independent. Each person’s actions influences the experience of others. A colleague’s contribution to a report may free you form some drudgery or constrain the possibilities for your contributions. Often the actions of others both free and constrain in different ways.

The second point is that burnout arises from important issues. Basic mismatches of people and their workloads or profound disagreements on core values aggravate burnout. Changing the color of our smartphone cover will not reduce burnout. Alleviating burnout requires that you change something that really matters about how you participate in your job.

The actions you take to address burnout will create ripples that will affect others and prompt them to respond. Some of those responses may further your quest but some with run directly contrary.

Change is possible but it never unfolds just as you planned.

If you have an opportunity to read the article, I’d love to read your comments.


Posted in Areas of Worklife, Burnout, Fitness, Heatlh, Organizational Change, stress, Workgroups | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment