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Burnout is a new age illness that more and more people are talking about in the last ten years. It’s a disease that has resulted from the 21st century’s fast-paced lifestyle. If you speak to your grandparents about burnout, you’ll get a blank look, however our parents are more likely to understand it and for the Generation X and Y it’s a common reality. As technology advances, our lives become faster and more packed with knowledge so the challenge is that our brains and bodies are not evolving nearly fast enough. Therefore, our psychological and physical bodies lag behind.

Burnout is the depletion of energy and emotional exhaustion. It happens when we’ve maxed out our bodies and minds so much so that we become indifferent to our work. In Europe when an employee is diagnosed with burnout they are booked off work for up to three months during which time they recover and learn life coping techniques which enable them to manage their work life differently. In South Africa, however, we are lagging behind and generally regard burnout as a personal weakness. We tend to soldier bravely on, never admitting or speaking about it and make it a taboo subject similar to depression. We need to break this silence because burnout is nothing like catching a cold or some other illness. It’s a disease that we have created and need to heal by understanding the root cause.

Companies have a huge role to play when it comes to burnout and it’s likely that they are oblivious to their direct impact on burnout. However, as people spend two thirds of their day at work it’s natural that we need to explore this. In 1998, Maslach and Leiter conducted a study and they came up with six ways organisational behaviour contributes to burnout:

1. Work overload – More companies are downscaling their workforce to enable them to survive economic and financial challenges. However, the workload has remained the same if not more. There are now fewer people doing more work which was previously handled by retrenched employees.

2. Lack of autonomy – Being held accountable and responsible for work delivered but having minimum say on how to go about doing it leads to burnout. Having rigid rules stifle our innovation, creativity and flexibility and we become frustrated, demotivated and feel like a cog in the wheel.

3. Rewards – Now this one will push buttons! Receiving occasional or less pay for more work responsibilities or having fringe benefits reduced or even made obsolete.

4. Loss of connections – Reducing personal connections and increasing technological communication. If people feel less connected to others and isolated from their manager, it will mean that there will be less commitment and caring towards their work.

5. Unfair treatment – The previous four points may give rise to a feeling of inequality on how people are treated. It may not be the case, but alone the perception is dangerous. Unfairness breeds resentment, greed and lack of enthusiasm.

6. Value conflict – Not to be underestimated. Misaligned personal values with company values causes an internal tug of war and decline in job satisfaction and performance.

No one benefits from burnout! We can help you review these six things so that both employer and employees can collectively work on solutions

Reference Maslach, C and Leiter, M.P. (1998). The Truth About Burnout. How Organizations Cause Personal Stress and What to Do About It. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass