3 Ways to Avoid Burnout

Burnout is when the gap between effort and reward is so great for so long that the people doing the effort decide to simply quit. They usually don’t quit their jobs.  They show up.  They look busy.  They just don’t care. They’ve reached that mildly agitated and apathetic state that Peter described in the movie Office Space.

That's my only real motivation is not to be hassled, that and the fear of losing my job. But you know, Bob, that will only make someone work just hard enough not to get fired.

From my experience, burnout is far more pervasive than many suspect, and it’s far more damaging than anyone realizes. I watch burnout put a company out of business years after the burnout happened.  I reached a conclusion about that incident that has yet to be challenged by experience: once burnout strikes an employee, that employee’s ruined for that employer. In other words, the only recovery is a new employer.

The answer for managers and businesses, then, is to avoid burnout.  Here’s how:

1. Work Regular Hours:  If you expect people to work from home, to check emails before bed, to work 14 hour day, you’re not only stupid, you’re a bad person.  Limiting people to 40 hours a week instills discipline and prevents burnout. Work will get done faster and will be of higher quality.

2. Reward Results: The heroes who spend three consecutive days at work to meet a deadline aren’t heroes, they’re sociopaths.  Fire them.  Reward the people who add value consistently. I’ve seen too many companies turn good employees into bad ones by rewarding 60 hour work weeks. If the person who spends the most time the office gets the promotion, people will fill the hallways evening and weekends. They will generate emails at 5 a.m. on Sundays just to impress you with their industry.  Yet your gross margin will drop. 

3.  Play: Dr. Stuart Brown says, “The opposite of play is not work, it’s depression.”  Play is natural, and it’s how we learn the most important things we learn in life. (The most important things keep us alive. We learn them before we get to kindergarten.) If you don’t incorporate play into your work, you guarantee burnout in your people. 

Burnout ruins lives and companies.  Fear it.