7 FREQUENT BURNOUT SITUATIONS

Burnout expert Michael Leiter

once described 6 burnout situations that are quite common and useful to know (see also his books: 'Banishing Burnout - amazon).

1) emotional exhaustion

2) lack of degrees of freedom/lack of control over own work

3) perceived shortage of reward

4) socially 'sick' environment

5) lack of honesty

6) value conflict

Per situation, we will give our own examples.

1) emotional exhaustion

One of the first branches where burnout was seen, is the 'nursing sector'. Nurses are constantly absorbed, not only cognitively, but also emotionally, by all: physicians, patients, family of patients, colleagues....they are under people all the time (a 'contact-rich profession) and are, in case of less rewarding but 'obligated' interactions prone to burnout.

2) lack of degrees of freedom/lack of control over own work

When dead lines are set, the way of work is prescribed, the 'critcal path' is followed without 'slack', one has insufficient support from colleagues and boss but is not allowed to hire additional help, one tempts to feel work as a 'cage', increasingly becoming 'hell', where one has to keep up and swallow increasing frustrations. One day these frustrations will translate themselves in burnout, eventual combined with lots of somatic complaints that cannot be explained by physicians of somatic grounds (!).

These are difficult 'all or nothing situation', like in investement bank sector. Comply with you suit, work times, behaviour, spare time, ethics and everything else, or 'drop oupt without bonus and we recruit another person to take your place'.

3) perceived shortage of reward

When an employee with a formally lower position regularly comes up with bright ideas, but this is never recognized by staff, and bosses are taking the credits, the formally lower educated employee starts to feel a lack of reward: he is paid less, due to his lesser formal education, he is not being giving compliments, on the contrary, bosses are pretending it are their ideas.

Therefore in many factories you see a practice of 'idea box'. Every year the best ideas are rewarded, by attaching the employees name to it, giving the employee a physicial reward, photo, repot in a company magazine, AND a financial bonus that is significant in comparison to a monthly wage.

4) socially 'sick' environment

Some environments become totally 'sick'. This happens for example in large banking offices or lawyers' offices. The generally accepted rules of behior are:

  • 'survival of the fittest'
  • 'take whatever you want, as long as you are not sentenced later'
  • 'there is law, except that you have a problem if you get sued, or, more seriously, get condemned'.

This 'life principles' are common for those materialistic 'young eager beavers', but are far from sound human practices on earth! After a while, some individuals see things happening of which the think 'this goes too far'!.

A good and very funny book is Michael Lewis 'Liar's poker' about his first three years at Goldmann Sachs. Het quit before he got burned out, and now writes very valubale novels and non-fiction books about the culture in banking world.

Of course in quite some other sectors, 'mean' and 'hypocrit' behaviour can exist as well. Imagine you are the 'bad guy' wanting the leadership of a project, but in the preceeding meeting it has been assigned to your colleague Mary. Then after the meeting you go to your boss' office for a 'chat'.

You: 'Well, a brave decision....'
Boss: 'What?'
You: 'Appointing Mary! She has got talent that is clear....but it is quite a challenge after her motherhoods' leave, the overall private situation..'
Boss: 'Do you think she cannot cope?'
You: 'To be honest: I am not certain. I like her very much, but.... I remember Janice, two years ago, in the same situation and...'

Now, what does the boss say?
1) 'Thank your for sharing your concerns with me....and Mary, yes, we will think about it but I see your point'
2) 'Stop spreading around doubts about Mary, please! I find your behaviour 'rat-like', and I am not amused. This is not the kind of culture we want in this company! Am I clear?'

On his reply it will depend, whether the culture will go towards a 'vipers nest'/ 'sick culture' or the culture will stay healthy.

5) lack of honesty

Some people are born with a very strong sense of justice and cannot work in environments where Macchiavelli's rule goes: 'the ends justify the means'

6) value conflict

Imagine you work in the R&D department of a car manufacturer. You invent an improvement to the engine so the engine will have a longer lifetime. Your solution does not even cost more than the current manufacturing practice.

BUT: you are overruled by business managers who say: 'We are already seen as the most trustworthy car company by potential sellers, so why should our cars have a longer lifetime? We only steal from our own wallet, because customers then extend their new car's sale'.

Your brilliant idea is turned down, in order to maximize profits. You went into engineering to make useful things for people....this confict of ethics can make you burnout.