Are you working more, and enjoying it less? If so, you might be suffering from burnout—a malady to which information professionals appear particularly prone.
And we’re not alone. A recent survey of 72 senior leaders found that nearly all of them reported at least some signs of burnout and that all of them noted at least one cause of burnout at work, writes Tony Schwartz of The Energy Project in the New York Times. Gallup’s 2013 State of the American Workplace Report found that 70 percent of the U.S. workforce was either disengaged or miserable. Research from Monster.com shows that 80 percent of workers experience burnout in their jobs, and that figure rises to 86 percent among millennials.
Why is this happening? And can you do anything about it? First, let’s talk about what burnout isn’t. It’s not just a stretch of bad days at work, or workplace angst. Burnout may be the result of unrelenting stress, but it isn’t the same as too much stress, according to HelpGuide.org. We feel stress when there’s “too much” of something—too many physical or psychological demands. While stressed people think that if they can just get everything under control, they’ll feel better, burned-out people feel that there’s no way they can. Instead of too much, they don’t have enough, whether it’s energy, motivation, or caring.
To a certain degree, we can blame the economy. When the recession hit and the economy went south, people started working extra hard to keep their companies afloat and to make sure they kept their jobs. Now, after many years of this, people are starting to wear out. Plus, many organizations are outsourcing jobs to contractors and other non-employees—workers who are particularly susceptible to burnout, notes the UK Web Design Association, an umbrella organization formed in 2001 of more than 10,000 British web industry professionals.
We can also pin burnout on all those little devices we love so much. With our smartphones on, it is harder for us to ever really turn work off. “The rise of digital technology is perhaps the biggest influence, exposing us to an unprecedented flood of information and requests that we feel compelled to read and respond to at all hours of the day and night,” Schwartz writes.
Burnout presents two major problems. The first is that burned-out people don’t work effectively. They are prone to bad decision-making and they tend to be less committed. They might punt on something important, or quit, just as you’re counting on them.
The second is that burned-out people are more susceptible to health problems brought on by stress, such as heart disease. The people most at risk for burnout were 79 percent more likely to have heart disease—worse than smokers—according to a study performed by Tel Aviv University in 2013.
CIOs need to be especially tuned into spotting burnout (particularly if you work at a startup). Not only do they need to be able to look for signs of burnout in their team, they must be able to recognize it in themselves, as well as in the people above them on the org chart. (Not even the CEO is immune.) “Burnout is much more pronounced for information workers—people who deal in bits each day—because unlike a mason or an architect, the product of much of our work isn't visible,” writes venture capitalist Tomasz Tunguz.
Here are some signs of burnout to watch for:
- Feeling like you don’t know what you’re supposed to be doing, perhaps due to too much responsibility without enough training.
- Ironically, feeling like you’ve got too much of a handle on your job, like it’s too routine. “When work becomes so routine that it regularly feels tedious, or when it feels as if I could do the tasks blindfolded, I know burnout isn't far off,” writes Elizabeth Zielinski, a meeting and event industry consultant and trainer who blogs regularly for Meetings & Conventions magazine.
- Being cranky with your coworkers all the time.
If you’re interested in learning more, Psychology Today offers a list of many other potential burnout symptoms, broken into categories.
And if you recognize any of the above signs in yourself or your colleagues, here are some ways to deal with burnout:
- Take breaks from work, whether it’s an hour a day, a day a week, or a weekend a month. If you’re struggling to book these breaks, remind yourself that you’ll be much more productive for having taken a timeout.
- Consider going on an email vacation. And insist that your employees do so as well.
- And while you’re at it, take an actual vacation.
- Develop all the standard healthy habits: Eat healthfully; stay away from drugs and alcohol; get enough sleep; exercise regularly.
- Learn something new. Take up a hobby, volunteer in your community or start some other new project (even a work-related one) that excites you. If you’ve been doing the exact same work for a long time, ask for something new—a different sales territory, project, or role, recommends Dale Carnegie Training.
- Focus on being nice to people, whether it’s asking how they’re doing, expressing appreciation for what they do, or looking for ways to take care of the nagging little things that bother them. Then go ahead and see what you can do about the nagging little things that bother you.
- Look for ways to offload the tasks that you really can’t stand. Evaluate whether the tasks are absolutely necessary. If they are, consider delegating them to someone else.
Ultimately, the real solution for burnout is engagement. Engaged employees work harder and more effectively—and stay around longer. “In a numbers-driven world, the most compelling argument for change is the growing evidence that meeting the needs of employees fuels their productivity, loyalty and performance,” Schwartz writes. If you’d invest in hardware or software to make the company more effective, why wouldn’t you do the same for the people?
Simplicity 2.0 is where we examine the intricate and transitory world of technology—through a Laserfiche lens. By keeping an eye on larger trends, we aim to make software that’s relevant to modern day workers, rather than build technology for technology’s sake.
Subscribe to Simplicity 2.0 and follow us on Twitter. If what we’re saying piques your interest, head over to Laserfiche.com where you’ll see how we apply the lessons learned on Simplicity 2.0 to our own processes, products and industry.