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How to Protect Yourself from Work Burnout

How to Protect Yourself from Work Burnout

The Primary Cause of Job Burnout

The gold standard job burnout assessment is the 22-question Maslach Burnout Inventory  (“MBI”) by University of California, Berkeley psychology professor, Christina Maslach. The MBI surveys three areas: exhaustion, depersonalization and professional efficacy. According to Dr. Maslach, people often think the demands of their jobs are the primary contributors to burnout. Interestingly, she has found that poor relationships in the workplace – poor communications, incivility, passive aggressive behavior and bullying – are often the real culprit. 

In other words, people have a misconception when it comes to burnout; they think it’s caused by work demands when more often it’s attributable to a poor state of relationships or, what I call, a lack of connection. Matthew Lieberman, a social neuroscientist at UCLA, has noticed this blind spot, too, and he refers to it as “our kryptonite.” In his TEDtalk, “The Social Brain and Its Superpowers,” Lieberman calls connection a superpower and this lack of appreciation of our social superpowers keeps us from becoming smarter, happier and more productive (similar to how kryptonite prevented Superman from exercising his superpowers of flight and x-ray vision).  

3 Practices to Protect Yourself

Burnout is often the result of spending too much time on activities that consume our energy and insufficient time on activities that replenish us. Here are three practices that can replenish you spiritually, mentally and physically to help protect you from burnout.

1. Connect with the Lord, and with yourself

Schedule time for spiritual, mental and physical self-care. I know one person who literally schedules these times in his calendar and guards them as he would an appointment with a client. Self-care will make you sturdier and more resilient.

At one time in my life, my habit was to run hard until I collapsed, take time to recover… and repeat the cycle. I wasn’t even aware of this unhealthy pattern until a client of mine (also a brother in Christ) had me complete the Hartman Values Profile. It was a wake-up call that resulted in changing my attitude and behavior. Today I have several safeguards in place. I begin most days with a quiet time praying and reading Scripture. Each week, I take at least one 24-hour period off from thinking about work and chipping away at my to do list. If this “Sabbath day” falls on a Sunday, I’ll attend worship services in the morning and do other things that are life-giving and that recharge my batteries over the remainder of the day. I also exercise on a fairly regular basis and record entries of things I’m grateful for in a gratitude app (you can use a diary, too).

2. Connect with others outside of work

You should be aware that America is experiencing an epidemic of loneliness (read excellent articles about it in Slate and The Atlantic). I can relate. When the demands of work and the commute to and from the office crowded out time for family and friends, I began to suffer from loneliness. I didn't feel well, but wasn’t aware that loneliness fueled by stress was behind how I was feeling physically.

No one ever told me that people are hardwired for connection and that we dysfunction when our need for connection goes unmet. If you’re not convinced that you need connection to thrive in life, read the “Science of Connection” chapter in Connection Culture where I present the scientific evidence. Now I’m intentional about spending time with my wife and going to my men’s Bible study on Saturday mornings. You should be intentional about investing time connecting, too. 

Let me point out here that loneliness is not the same as being alone. You can be surrounded by people but be lonely if you feel disconnected from them. It’s also worth noting that while we all need connection, that level of need will vary by individual. Catching up over coffee may be just right for an introvert while an extrovert may want to gather a roomful of friends together.

3. Connect with colleagues and customers

Over the course of my career I have worked in cultures that energized me and cultures that drained my energy. Mind you, I hadn’t changed. I’ve come to see that it was the differences in attitudes, uses of language and behaviors that affected me. Workplace cultures either control people, are indifferent to people (because everyone is so busy they don't take time to connect) or they connect people. It’s cultures of connection that help people thrive, individually and collectively.

To establish and sustain a healthy workplace culture, it’s necessary to have a common vocabulary that defines what culture is, a framework to create a healthy culture and examples of how others have done it. Rather than trying to assemble this on your own, I recommend taking time to get your team together to read my latest book, Connection Culture. As a companion piece,download free copies of the 28-page 100 Ways to Connecte-book. You and your team can use these practical resources to develop a shared language and approach to team culture and then identify individual and collective actions for implementation.

The bottom line? Jesus said the greatest commandments are to love the Lord and love our neighbors so it should come as no surprise that staying connected with the Lord, family and friends, colleagues and customers helps us thrive and provides protection from burnout.  I sincerely hope you will mark this day, begin connecting and watch what happens. I promise that over time, you will experience greater levels of productivity, energy and joy that come from having an abundance of Divine and human connection in your life.

Michael Lee Stallard, president of E Pluribus Partners, is co-founder of and co-developer of the Culture Quiz. He speaks, teaches and consults with leaders of business, government, healthcare and higher education on workplace culture. His most recent book is Connection Culture: The Competitive Advantage of Shared Identity, Empathy and Understanding at Work.   

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Publication date: November 1, 2016

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