Stress Management, Well-being and Self-Care

Man holding head looking stressed and burnout.

Burnout Part 3

by James Porter June 29, 2022

Human Performance Curve Chart

This is the third of a six-part article on Burnout. Future installments will discuss what makes resilience a dirty word, the five stages of burnout, and most importantly, how to help employees recover from burnout.

In Part 2 I referenced a recent article in The Harvard Business Review by Jennifer Moss. In that article she points out that there’s sea change going on right now, around the subject burnout. No longer considered the worker’s problem to solve, now enlightened employers are realizing it’s truly their problem to solve, especially if they want to attract the best talent. When you look at Moss’s TOP FIVE reasons why employees burnout, it’s crystal clear that the only folks who can properly address these problems are the folks in upper level management:

  1. Unfair treatment at work
  2. Unmanageable workload
  3. Lack of role clarity
  4. Lack of communication and support from the manager
  5. Unreasonable time pressure.

Moss interviewed Christina Maslach (who first popularized the term Burnout in the 1980’s, see part 1) who explains: “Imagine a Canary in a coalmine. Would we blame the canary for being sick?” No, of course not.   Moss also talks about motivation factors that managers can look at to solve the problem. (Notice these first 5 factors don’t cost the organization a penny!)

  1. Recognition for one’s achievements
  2. The opportunity to do something meaningful
  3. Involvement in decision-making
  4. Sense of importance to the organization.
  5. Challenging work

Then she talks about what she calls 5 “hygiene factors” that can have either a positive or negative effect on levels of burnout in any organization. These factors include:

  1. Salary
  2. Working conditions
  3. Company polices
  4. Working relationships
  5. Status and job security

She ends the article by saying that BURNOUT IS PREVENTABLE by looking at these ten factors above as part of your company’s well-being strategy. She concludes by saying: “Keep the yoga, the mindfulness classes and wellness and stress management apps, as they are all terrific tools for optimizing mental health and managing stress. But when it comes to burnout it’s on you leaders (to solve) not employees.”

You’ve probably at some point seen, The Stress and Optimal Performance Curve pictured above. Combined with the ten factors listed above, this information practically gives you a road map for how to prevent burnout in your organization. It’s important to realize that a difficult or toxic boss will keep pushing their employees up the left side of the curve (trying to improve their performance by adding on the stress) with unrealistic deadlines, heavy workloads, lack of support and unfair treatment until they topple over the edge of this upside-down U into breakdown, ill health and burnout.

But a good boss knows that with judicious use of the ten factors listed above he or she can keep employees balanced at the top of the curve, where their work feels meaningful and workers feel energized, focused, and inspired. Remember the old saying which really applies here: Workers don’t quit their jobs, they quit their bosses. And that adage really applies here.

In the next installment, we’ll look at how to recognize the five stages of burnout and in future installments, what makes resilience a dirty word, and finally how to help employees recover from burnout. (Check out Jim Porter’s Stress Management at Work group on Linked-in and join the conversation to comment on this article.)

James Porter
James Porter