October 2018 | Nano Tools | Senior Leadership
Nano Tools for Leaders® are fast, effective leadership tools that you can learn and start using in less than 15 minutes — with the potential to significantly impact your success as a leader and the engagement and productivity of the people you lead.
Contributor: John D. Kelly, MD; Professor Of Clinical Orthopaedic Surgery, Perelman School of Medicine, University of Pennsylvania.
Recognize and reduce the physical and mental effects of burnout.
Overwork and excessive stress seem so common they’re hardly worth mentioning. Some executives even glorify their “busyness,” touting it as a badge of honor. But the physical and emotional effects of burnout can cause lasting harm to individuals, and in the workplace, burnout results in higher rates of absenteeism, turnover, and poor performance.
Once considered a uniquely American problem (think longer workdays and non-standard paid vacation), burnout is now experienced by workers throughout the world. In China, Japan, and South Korea, there’s even a specific word for death caused by overwork. Burnout was once thought to be limited to specific industries, such as health care and public safety. But in the Centers for Disease Control's National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health publication Stress at Work, 40 percent of workers conveyed that their jobs are very stressful, and 26 percent said they are “often burned out or stressed” by their work. For executives, who typically have a higher threshold for stress and anxiety, burnout can be particularly insidious: most consider it a weakness or character flaw, are less likely to address it, and work even harder in response.
The first step in addressing burnout — and safeguarding physical and mental health and improving work outcomes — is acknowledging that you are experiencing it. Review the following list of symptoms; if you are experiencing more than three, consider the action steps below to begin to address them.
Taking proactive steps to deal with burnout can be difficult, since fatigue and pessimism are characteristic symptoms. One must first become aware of negative self-talk, a part of distorted thinking that is a cardinal sign of emotional exhaustion. Examples of negative thoughts such as “nothing can take away the stress of my job” or “it won’t make a difference” can be observed rather than believed. Techniques to sidestep negative energy such as cognitive restructuring, mindfulness, and compassion can keep you centered even in the most turbulent of times. You can regard those trying moments as either bellwethers for future doom and gloom or opportunities for personal growth and transformation. Choose one or two of the following as a start to reducing and ultimately eliminating the threat of burnout.
While the steps above can help individuals combat burnout, these efforts are enhanced when a company’s leaders work to address excessive workplace stress.
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Nano Tools for Leaders® was conceived and developed by Deb Giffen, MCC, director of Custom Programs at Wharton Executive Education. Nano Tools for Leaders® is a collaboration between joint sponsors Wharton Executive Education and Wharton’s Center for Leadership and Change Management. This collaboration is led by Professors Michael Useem and John Paul MacDuffie.
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