Burnout. An appropriate compound word for when it all falls apart. At work, we’re so busy, so stressed that we can’t keep up. “Drinking from the fire hose” , “Jumping on a freight train”, “Keeping our head above water” are all phrases we’ve heard or even said ourselves. These are all short-term spurts of feeling overwhelming. Burnout however, is over a continuous erosion of our willingness. It’s when we’re trying to hold on, but we’re so exhausted, so done that our fingers slip and it all disintegrates. Burnout at work can impact our productivity, relationships, sleep, and mental health.
It reminds me of the scene in Toy Story where Buzz and Woody are strapped to the rocket gripping onto RC while careening down the street trying to reunite with the other toys in the moving truck. They have so much propulsion pushing them upwards, away from their goal, that Woody’s feeble hands lack the strength to hold on and they’re forced to give way to the rocket’s direction and are shot upwards into the clouds with only moments before the rocket explodes. At the last second, Buzz extends his “high-pressure-space-wings” breaking off from the rocket and both he and Woody “fall with style” into the movie’s most iconic scene.
If only we too could go to infinity and beyond at work. When burnout happens, we don’t have a red quick release button on our chest to hit. We don’t break away at the last second. We’re depleted of all energy to engage thus we go limp, letting the rocket dictate where we’re headed…ending in burnt out cinders. Luckily, burnout is curable. So how do we prevent burnout? How do we be like Buzz Lightyear, the world’s greatest toy, and soar into Pixar brilliance?
Loss of Control
Being overwhelmed by workload demands is one factor leading to burnout. The simplest antidote here is to reduce them. While that might be the simplest, it isn’t always available. The next best thing then is to gain more control over those same demands.
Lacking control is what separates burnout from the typical daily stress everyone feels. Think about this: are you more likely to quit because of the volume of tasks you have to do or how those tasks have to be done? Of the fifteen bullets on your to-do, the one that has to submitted Thursday, approved by two supervisors, formatted just right, takes forever to process, and at the last minute has to be done again because someone submitted their portion late and you’re the only one that knows how to do it is the one the makes us lose our grip.
Much of the previous example is due to red tape, redundancies, and blockades. All of this prevents progress and if progress isn’t being made, teams can become disengaged. Disengaged teams make more mistakes and burn out more easily because they lack the control, or autonomy to refine and streamline. Teams with greater autonomy are entrusted to set their own deadlines and create boundaries for others and have increased motivation to complete excellent work given it is a direct reflection of their skills. All of this results in productivity which translates into efficiencies and efficiencies can support the reduction of the overall demands of a job. A win-win for preventing burn out.
Control the Rocket – Control the Work
Like Toy Story, we too can break away from our rockets before burnout. The propulsion can either push us forward, so long as we have the strength to hold on, or it can cause us to deviate and blow up. Ask yourself, will you let the rocket control you? Or will you control the rocket?