Burnout is not always a people problem… Sometimes it’s the organization.


Google “burnout” and you will find 85.6 million opinions on it. Most of which will say something like:

  • Take a break
  • Try Yoga
  • Drink less caffeine
  • Exercise
  • Eat right

As if it is the individuals issue and problem.  A deeper look at burnout in organizations points to organizational structure and culture as a cause.

Employees don’t need gyms or foosball tables to be highly engaged. They need meaningful work, a dose of autonomy, and a path to gain mastery over their work. Organizations get in the way of this in a number of ways.

Help employees gain control of their output. The employees may not have control over their output. In todays distributed remote workplace, people are often waiting on someone else to deliver a portion of the project or product. When people are not held accountable to deliver their portion on time, people experience loss of control and burnout.

I can remember often being frustrated by a client implementation team that would promise a 30 day go live date and then deliver a 60-day actual. That is thirty days of lost production and revenue!

Lack of clear expectations can also create burnout. I remember a client that wanted to improve their sales results. And they did not have a goal! Their stated goal was “More sales”. He did not want to set a goal because if it was too easy, the team would not work hard enough. And, if it was too high it would de-motivate them.  You can’t hold people accountable to a goal that is not set or that is too vague like “more”. And people want mile markers on the road to success.

                                     You can’t hold people accountable to a goal that is not set.

Then there is trying to work in a toxic culture. You know those cultures where there are the “in” kids and the rest. I can remember being on a sales team where the east coast Jocks, got the attention, the fun assignments, and the recognition. Everyone else was second class.

I have had several clients over the years stress about the toxic employee that does pretty good work – above average. But they tear everyone else down. In one hundred percent of the cases when they let the toxic employee go, productivity shot up. But when organizations tolerate the toxic superstar, morale falls, people feel like what they do doesn’t matter, and people get burned out.

I can hear some readers asking, “so who cares”? According to an article in Forbes Magazine burnout costs $120 Billion – $190 Billion in healthcare costs every year. If you are an owner, you should care.

So, what can organizations do?

  1. Create Clarity in the organization. Be clear on goals, expectations and agreements. Make sure that everyone including the executive level is held accountable for results.
  2. Let people exercise some autonomy on how they achieve goals and results.
  3. Help them learn new useful skills.
  4. Eliminate Toxic employees.

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