Burnout is a result of a mismatch of the job and the person. Emphasis on and! In this post I’ll discuss factors that increase the risk of burnout in an organization. It is also a reminder for myself, to be weary of these red flags when I’ll go job hunting.
You don’t need to check all the 6 factors that play a role in burnout, one can be enough.
- The first factor is the most obvious and maybe the one that will be named the most when you ask people what a burnout is. They’ll think about work overload or too much work. There is an imbalance between the demands and the resources which leads to exhaustion. Although it is the most named one, it is not the most important factor.
- You feel you have a lack of control in your job or you’re feeling trapped. When you don’t feel you can try new strategies, use your ideas or talents, stress tends to increase and with that your chance to feeling burned out. I felt this one very strong. When I tried to implement some new ideas (some went well I must admit) I was sometimes told I was ‘too smart’. You can shut every discussion with that argument don’t you? Another one was when talking about working with family. I had no right to speak on that because ‘you don’t have children’. This hurt me not only professionally because I felt like I spoke up for the patient and saw his problems and possibilities taking psychiatric issues into account, but also privately. After hearing this one over and over again I explained (!) that it wasn’t my choice at all not to have children. And that I was not that ‘lazy women’ who chose this lifestyle to have it ‘easier’ and that I was glad to work more holidays, taking vacation outside the school holidays and that I worked with pleasure every Mother’s day.
- There are insufficient rewards or little to no feedback. Positive rewards work way better than negative ones. It is just the way it works. When you don’t get recognition for your hard work, when your efforts are not seen, the risk of burnout increases. What is detrimental to your self-esteem and efforts, is still getting criticism no matter how hard you try. Some people have a harsh inner critic (yes, Donald you!) so only critiquing them makes it worse. Working in chronic care for 9 years I’ve red all the studies that say that appreciation is needed for mental health workers in the chronic care. I know and understand that. When I spoke up about it, I was told to get my appreciation from the patients. I took this as a sign to withdraw more from the team.
- A breakdown of community. How is your understanding with your boss and co-workers? Are there a lot or big reorganizations? I survived two in those years. Who can we trust? Who is there to support us? Do we support others? Overt or maybe covert? Why is that? Is there an unresolved conflict? Is there instability in your team or in the larger organization? Is there bullying? What is done about it? Is there something being done? How is the communication at work? Those are all important questions when thinking about your workplace. People have the need to feel safe, accepted and supported. When the future is uncertain (in the organization) and you’re not supported because everyone is a bit uneasy about the reorganization, you will feel more vulnerable. Sometimes people react by saying ‘Oh well, it’s just a job’. That is true but you spend more time on your job than at home sometimes and sometimes you are more in touch with your colleagues than your friends.
- You feel an absence of fairness. Are things being done with fairness, are they just? When somebody gets an opportunity for another job within the corporation, is that being decided fairly? Are the raises given just? Do the rules apply in an equal amount to everybody or are some people more equal than others? When the workplace is not being perceived as correct or when you’re treated with a lack of respect, it makes you more cynical towards the organization. I had a very big problem with this as the workload was being discussed in a unique top down manner. For me it was and still is not just. I may be stubborn but I do have my principles.
- You experience conflicting values at your job. This is a very important point. The central question is: What makes your life meaningful? And is this answer in stride with the organization? I’ll give you some examples for a clearer understanding:
Imagine you work in sales. The company your work for is very focused on the consumer; the consumers wish is your command as so to speak. When it comes to selling a car, they like you to sell anything to anyone and the more extra options they take, the better. ‘Just push the newer version with seat heating because it’s good for the statistics’. When you as an employee care about the costumer it can be difficult to push the seat heating. Image now you are a therapist. You’ve done an intake with your new client and you have a pretty good understanding what is needed for the therapy to work. You may have some hypothesis. You can plan some exposure therapy (5 sessions), maybe a session or two with the spouse. You need one session more to grasp the reality behind the things and maybe one session to explain the method and some ‘getting use to time’ for your client. You have a plan with 9 or 10 sessions. The insurance company gives you 5. Would you be tempted to ‘exaggerate’ the clients condition or not? And more important, would you have a moral problem with doing so? Some people can do things for ‘the greater good’ and be fine and done with it. They can justify it for themselves, others cannot be happy with that. Are you ok with the demands of your job?
These 6 factors are the most important one that contribute to burnout in an organization. When your workplace is interested in measure these ones in a preventive way. Meaning to measure them let’s say annually and tackle the point that point in the wrong direction, employees can feel better at work. These form valuables pointers on how to lead a workplace to a more mentally healthy environment when adjustments are made. It can provide surprising outcomes if you only are willing to have a closer look at them. On a more individual level, you can evaluate these points for your situation and see if warning signs do occur. It’s up to you to adjust them in the way you see fit. Your work is important, but you are too!
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