TLS on Workplace Burnout and Creating Space

INTRODUCTION

A recent Gallup poll {www.gallup.com/workplace/237059} suggests that approximately two-thirds of all full-time workers experience BURNOUT on the job. Just earlier this year, the World Health Organization (WHO) released the 11th edition of the International Statistical Classification of Diseases defining burnout as a “syndrome resulting from chronic work-related stress.” Job burnout involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity. Left untreated or unaddressed, burnout can lead to hopelessness, alienation (belonginglessness), and depression, even death.

Primary causes of workplace burnout include feeling overwhelmed by the sheer amount of work, feeling overworked and undervalued, lack of control over one’s work, and a sense of boredom or psychological disassociation with one’s work due to mind-numbing monotony or dull routine. For instance, workers experiencing burnout often complain about driving the same route to work, doing the same thing at work—day in and day out—leading to the same sense of dissatisfaction. This is the proverbial “hamsters wheel” that manifests in reduced productivity, decreased effectiveness, and distancing oneself from work duties.

ON WORKPLACE BURNOUT

Ironically, fighting work burnout requires a lot of hard WORK and significant habit changes. Yet, these changes need not be complicated or difficult to regain a sense of control over one’s work or to rekindle the flame that led one to work in the first place. For example, burnout is associated with a sense of lack of control over one’s work. This can be exacerbated when one feels (or exercises) very little control over their workplace and environment. Though you may not be able to determine the goals and metrics for the entire organization, you can make decisions about your cubicle, desk, or office.

TIP #1: Post up your favorite picture of a loved one, reorganize your shelves or make decisions about your daily tasks, priorities, and immediate goals. Prepare a list and “check off” tasks as you complete them, enjoying the sense of accomplishment that flows from your increased PRODUCTIVITY.


Burnout  results from chronic stress associated with experiencing routine or monotony for an extended period of time.

TIP #2: Switch things up, make small changes that break up the rounding and improve your efficiency. For instance, get a new desk chair. Move your computer monitor to another side of your desk. Clear off your desk by filing away folders, put supplies in your drawer, and place a small plant (representing newness and life) on the table. 

Burnout also comes from a sense of being overwhelmed by the chaos and disorder of one’s work. Deal with it by imposing order where there seems to be none.

TIP #3: Organize a pile of papers using file folders, paper clips, and bins. File folders in a cabinet or desk drawer. If the current system does NOT work, then make adjustments that fit your work-learning style (e.g., group by project or date).

TIP #4: Purchase post-it signs, flags, and stickies to order your workspace in terms of priorities, deadlines, and urgent or time-sensitive matters. Personally, I purchased some magnet handing file baskets from OfficeMax for less than $20 as a way of sorting an overwhelming pile of documents into three bins: urgent/time-sensitive things that require signature, incoming mail and invoices, and purchase or personnel-related matters. On first day of use, I felt excited about my new bins and enjoyed the extra space on my desk that increased my PRODUCTIVITY.

One more idea: burnout also comes from the stress associated with bad thoughts and energy about one’s workplace. You can help fix this while sitting at your desk, checking email or sipping coffee.

TIP #5: Work to recognize negative thought patterns (e.g., “I hate this place” or “My work is so boring”), what psychologists call “dirty thinking.” Stop the thought train before it goes too far. Close your eyes, take deep breaths, and contemplate positive thoughts—what we call “rewriting negative scripts”—where you actively work to replace bad thoughts with pro social, positive ones like “I like the people at work” or “We’re doing important work here” or “I can do this,” for instance. You might even invest in inexpensive desk decor or signs that display these affirming messages that you post in your workspace. Research shows daily affirmations work, even at work!

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Terrell Strayhorn is Vice President for Academic & Student Affairs and Professor of Urban Education at LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis, Tennessee (www.loc.edu). He is also President/CEO of a private consulting firm, Do Good Work Consulting, LLC (www.dogoodworkLLC.org).