The term burnout is often used by human service professionals who have reached their personal limits. According to the Mayo Clinic (2010), job burnout is defined as “a special type of job stress — a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work” (para. 2). Functioning in this state is difficult in any profession. However, in the field of human services it is critical to work with a clear and focused mind because the product at stake is human capital.
This paper will discuss factors that contribute to burnout as well as preventative measures. Contributing Factors Several symptoms occur when someone is experiencing burnout. Symptoms include being cynical or critical at work, no energy or effort toward productivity, or no satisfaction from daily job tasks or achievements. Underlying reasons for these symptoms are the core problems. One of which is lack of control. For instance, an organization may not be able to provide the necessary resources for employees to perform their jobs effectively.
Another example would be a supervisor not being willing to listen to an employee’s suggestions regarding job assignments or workloads. Also on an organizational level comes the problem of dysfunctional workplace dynamics. This could range from a contemptuous coworker to a boss who micromanages every aspect of an employee’s job. A mismatch in values may contribute to burnout also. Whether it is a moral or cultural conflict, not seeing eye-to-eye or favoring the organization’s way of doing business can take a toll. Unclear job expectations are another factor to consider.
It can be unsettling to be consistently unsure of the range of authority or level of expectation that a supervisor has. This not only has a bearing on the individual employee, but also on the team dynamic as well. An example of this would be a supervisor’s unexpressed expectation that a senior level staff member would preview the reports of his or her colleagues before submission. If the senior level employee took initiative and previewed the reports, it may cause resentment or confusion among the team without the direction or endorsement of the supervisor.
On the other hand, if the senior level employee did not take the initiative and preview the reports, then the supervisor is disappointed and may create a hostile or volatile work environment. Burnout Prevention and Personal Methods Managing stress is difficult, but it is necessary to prevent burnout. The Mayo Clinic (2010) suggests that people subject to burnout do the following: manage the contributing factors, evaluate alternatives, adjust attitude, develop support networks, and create a balance by investing in personal interests or passions.
These solutions include tactics that may be done individually and organizationally. Adjusting one’s attitude and creating a healthy balance between work and personal pursuits or passions are things that can be done independent of the organization. Currently, I am in a situation that is considerably different from the environment that I am familiar with. A lack of communication exists that fosters a counterproductive work environment. I found myself not wanting to go to work. Finally, I had to adjust my attitude and remind myself why I was there and why my role was important.
Despite my supervisor’s lack of communication or ineffective managing skills, I had several people dependent on me and my ability to do my job. Organizationally, assessing and managing the contributing factors and evaluating alternatives may reduce the chance of burnout. If lack of control or unclear job expectations were presenting problems, deciding to take control by meeting with the supervisor and having a professional, yet open discussion about the issues may help. Unfortunately, I had to do something similar regarding my scope of authority.
Another manager was handling an initiative that was directly related to my job responsibilities. Initially I was disheartened and distressed, but I decided to approach both the other manager and our supervisor to assess the situation and gain some clarity. Although it was described as an oversight, I now possess a defined perspective and understanding of my role and authority. Establishing social supports also are important. According to Miller (2008), there are three functions of social supports. The first is emotional support that lets a person know they are cared for or loved.
The second is informational support, which includes advice or facts to improve the work environment. Last there is instrumental support that involves physical or material assistance. This would include a coworker assisting with a time sensitive project or a supervisor sending an employee for job-related training. Over the years talking issues over with my father and two best friends helped with keeping things in perspective and understanding what was important and that I would be loved no matter what transpired.
Advice for Managers. As a manager it is important to monitor each employee and his or her productivity and job satisfaction levels. The most effective way of doing this is through direct and effective communication. When I managed a large team, it was necessary to have biweekly supervisions. This allowed me to have a dedicated and uninterrupted time frame associated with each of my staff members. I would describe the purpose of the meeting as their time with me. The key was to listen for cues that suggested they were unclear, unhappy, or unsatisfied.
Another suggestion would be for managers to recognize the unique composition of the team and enhance the strengths. For example, there were two evenings per week that our offices needed to remain open until 8 p. m. Instead of forcing a rotating work schedule, I allowed the team to create its own plan. To my surprise one of my staff members who I would have least expected to take the shift, volunteered for it. She had a new baby and a later start time was more convenient. The team was pleased and she was ecstatic that she could sleep for an additional two hours. Conclusion
Job burnout if left unchallenged can lead to chronic stress and possible unemployment. Reasons such as lack of control, unclear job expectations, a dysfunctional work environment, and lack of supports are contributing factors. Changing attitude, creating a balance between work and personal interests, and effectively assessing and managing the contributing factors are ways to avoid burnout. Personally, making a conscious and concerted effort to prioritize my life helped to value the larger picture and understand my contributions whether they are properly acknowledged or not.