Employee Burnout ~ Fight It or Flee It?

  By Dr. Frank Burtnett  |    Tuesday January 2, 2019

Category: Certification, Education, Expert Advice

Search and staffing professionals, like others associated with the movement of people in, out and about the workforce, are likely to have been exposed to a fair amount of employee burnout. Quite frankly, recognition of the burnout phenomenon and a desire to escape such conditions may be the marker that places certain candidates before them in the first place.


An examination of the burnout condition by human resource professionals suggests that it occurs when one of more of five things are present. Different commentators have offered varying opinions as to how it impacts performance and productivity and influences career satisfaction, but the theory of veteran collegiate and professional football coach Lou Holtz is noteworthy. Coach Holtz offered: “It’s not the load that breaks you down; it’s how you carry it.”


Burnout Indicators


As the Career Mechanic has observed clients in counseling environments for a lengthy period, evidence of both real and imagined burnout can usually be connected to one or more of the following indicators:

• Unmanageable workload – Although the workforce of today seems to operate on a 24/7 clock and elastic calendar, asking more of employees than they are able to produce represents a key condition that will result in burnout.

• Imbalanced treatment – Employees performing similar roles and hired because they possess similar qualifications and experiences must have their individual differences respected. Robots may be programmed for identical performance and productivity prospects. People can’t---and often burnout trying.

• Expectations that exceed capabilities – Some individuals are simply in over their head and burnout is the inevitable end to their struggle to survive.

• Poorly outlined role definitions – When the knowledge, skillset and experience are present and the expected performance and productivity are lacking, the employee may be operating from a distorted definition of his/her role. As a result, maximum energy is being expended with minimal gain.

• Life-work balance collision – Contemporary employees place life away from work in higher esteem that their parents and grandparents. Those who aren’t able to achieve the balance they desire may be treading in burnout territory. 


Burnout Avoidance, Reduction and Elimination


Avoiding or reducing burnout require a proactive approach that begins with the consideration of positions and places of employment that connect with the knowledge, skillset and experiences of the candidate with those positions that result in the most appropriate “fit.” Further, burnout can be thwarted by the early detection of issues and problems that turn a positive situation southward and have the employee fighting to keep his/her working head above water. Similarly, early detection of the symptoms of burnout and collaborative, and the application of corrective action can result in the reduction and elimination.


Employee burnout can be a “lose-lose” proposition. The employee loses in their quest to become situated in a rewarding, satisfying and enjoyable position, one that will maximize the use of their competencies and fit into their personal career development plan.


Setbacks for the employer can be equally impactful. Ask clients to take the burnout prevention test. It’s as simple as looking at the five bulleted conditions referenced above and determining the degree to which their positions may be driving reasonably talented and capable people toward burnout.


Ask candidates who are coming out of burnout situations, as well as those you think might have a propensity toward the condition, to identify the following: 1) aspects of the work itself and/or 2) elements of the workplace culture/setting that are most difficult for them to manage---conditions they would be willing to address openly with their manager or supervisor. Once corrective measures are identified, strategies should be outlined that ensure their implementation. 


The Art and Science of Working


Search and staffing professionals would be greatly served to become students of the “art and science of working,” and to use this understanding to make positive placements. In closing, it should be stated that some burnout may, in fact, be unavoidable. This is where the earlier Holtz quote about “how you carry the load” becomes relevant.



Topics are drawn from Dr. Burtnett’s book, Career Errors: Straight Talk about the Steps and Missteps of the Career Development Process (Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group) and represent those witnessed 

Purchase his book online at Rowman & Littlefield Publishing Group. 

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