What is Job Burnout?
Job burnout can be described as a lack of motivation and direction, a feeling of futility, or concerns the effort you put into your work are meaningless. Job burnout might not always be obvious. It’s not as if you wake up and realize, “I have job burnout.” But you might feel frustrated, unmotivated, disconnected from what others are working on, think “why bother?” when opportunities come up, or feel emotionally overwhelmed and as is you can’t handle situations you normally would be able to.
The list below identifies some factors that contribute to job burnout. If you’re an employee, these are some things to watch out for. You may have had trouble in the past identifying what it was that was bothering you, hopefully this will help. Future articles will talk about dealing with burnout. And if you’re a manager, this is just as important for you. Check to see if the environment you’re working in has these factors or, as a manager that you’re not contributing to these factors. At best, your employees will not be able to reach their full potential and at worst, you will likely lose some good people.
Demotivators as Causes of Job Burnout
If you feel like you’re working for or towards something, that typically leads to feelings of accomplishment and enthusiasm. However, if you’re constantly working to avoid something, such as loss, trying to keep up with the workload, avoid criticism, or constant “firefighting” you may end up an unhappy workaholic.
True there are personal and behavioral factors that can add to burnout. From a workplace perspective there are some specific significant factors that will act as great demotivators. These demotivators will eventually fuel job burnout. The following demotivators have been adapted from Preventing Job Burnout (Potter, 1995.)
A Critical Boss
No matter your performance or accomplishments, you are never able to satisfy your manager. There may be something to always find fault with, or something wrong with how you get things done. It may not be consistent. There may be a Jekyll and Hyde dynamic; something that was acceptable one week may be completely unacceptable the next. You end up feeling like you’re just not able to make your boss happy, happy with the work you provide, or feel like you are constantly walking on eggshells around that person. Critical comments may be subtle as well, not easy to identity consciously at first. Behaviors such as, “you’re doing ok, but…”, frequently being interrupted, feeling like you not allowed to provide constructive feedback and ideas, or having your work questioned or second-guessed contribute as well.
Very much like the critical boss but in this case the boss is you. You are too hard on yourself, placing undue pressure and unrealistic expectations on yourself.
There are several factors that can fall under the category of inadequate recognition. People want to feel valued for the work they do, and in ways that are meaningful to them. In addition, being or feeling underpaid can lead to feelings of lack of recognition. Under-utilization can as well. If you have a lot of education and experience, but feel you are being held back or not given opportunity to use your skills, that can contribute to recognition issues.
If you don’t know why you’re doing what you are, how your efforts contribute to the success of overall goals, or if what you’ve been asked to accomplish isn’t clear, it’s likely you will wonder what the point is or why bother if the goals conflict or are unclear. The same can be said of poor or missing information. If you are not provided with the information needed to accomplish goals or frequently given incorrect information, it’s unlikely you’ll be motivated in the future.
You may be given tasks that are not possible to complete in time. You may have clients and customers that either have expectations that cannot be met, or expectations that may have been set that you now have to meet. You might also be trying to take on too much at once.
Depending on the nature of your organization, you may have more than one manager, and those managers may have differing demands that make it difficult to accomplish goals. Or you manager’s supervisor may have conflicting goals and expectations, placing you in an awkward position. You may feel like you’re being pulled in too many directions as an employee, spouse, parent, or partner. Depending on the nature of the work you’re doing or being asked to do, you could also have conflicts with your beliefs, values, or even with what you believe to be a lower quality of work than should be produced.
Frequent red tape, process for process sake, unnecessary layers of management approvals, etc. can impede progress, leaving an employee feeling less than effective, untrusted, or worse, helpless. And attempts to circumvent bureaucracy in order to try to get things done may only lead to more frustration and problems.
Note that this doesn’t mean having a lot of work. It means too much work, at least more that you feel your can handle effectively. And prioritizing your workload doesn’t help if all your priorities are determined to be the same.
Lack of Training
Although not receiving training on a regular basis may make you feel like you’re not learning anything new, being consistently put into situations where you are responsible to complete work or to manage tools and solutions of which you have inadequate (or no) training will likely lead to multiple issues, burnout being a direct result as well an indirect result in the future.
Projects or Tasks That Never End
You work constantly, long and hard, on a project that never seems to have any defined goals or progress. But it keeps going. The deliverables may change, the schedule, the budget, but it just keeps going with no end in sight. As a team member you may feel, even know, that it’s time the project was killed, but your leader either doesn’t listen or you’ve hit the wall where you just don’t care anymore.
How would you feel if everything you ever worked on was not used, canceled, or considered unsuccessful?