Wednesday, May 03, 2020

Office Irritant or Looming Burnout?

Are you grumpy and short-tempered? Do you find the people around you more and more annoying? Do you always feel on edge? Or find other people’s presence gets in the way of concentrating on the important things in life — like double-checking that report you should have had ready two days ago? Before you conclude that you’re surrounded by morons and air-heads, maybe you should check for signs of burnout from excessive work.

In Great Britain, a Monster Meter poll recently asked the question, "What irritates you most about your job?" 2,226 respondents voted. Here are the top three irritants:
  • 30% (650 votes) – My colleagues
  • 25% (570) – The long hours culture
  • 24% (550) – Red tape
Alan Townsend, COO for Monster UK & Ireland, said:
Feeling irritated or angry with colleagues is one of the most common symptoms of stress. If people feel that they’re in control of their work, this can have both a dramatic and positive effect on their happiness and relationships with colleagues.
It's worth considering each of these irritants separately.

1. Maddening Colleagues
Getting annoyed with colleagues is natural. Some people are downright aggravating. But becoming so mad at their human foibles it turns into a major cause of irritation starts to look like a symptom of a more serious malaise. People suffering from clinical depression often find others too maddening to bear. The effects of burnout aren’t too different from those of depression — loss of interest in anything, constant negativity, debilitating feelings of pointlessness. The early signs of becoming seriously overwhelmed in the workplace are similar to the early signs of the clinical disease.

Stop and listen to yourself. See what’s happening to you. Admit the stresses and pressures which are manifesting in this way. If someone’s on their way to burnout, it’s often obvious to everyone except them. When normal snits turn into vendettas and a state of permanent bad-blood, it’s essential to call a time out.

Here are some other early signs of trouble:
  • Hiding behind your office door to avoid having to “waste time” dealing with others.
  • Feeling unable to say no to anything or anyone, in case it provokes a confrontation.
  • Doing everything yourself because you’ve decided you can’t trust others to do it properly.
  • Never putting off to tomorrow what you can do by staying until midnight.
  • Starting to believe the only thing that matters is work and that high personal productivity is a sign of divine favor.
  • Developing superstitious rituals to ensure work success.
  • Believing if you're not always worrying about work, your boss will decide you’re not committed to it and find someone else who is.

2. The Long Hours Culture
Sometimes people feel pride in juggling all the demands; a sense that lesser mortals might crumble under the strain, but those with real executive potential can handle everything thrown at them. Long hours, constant pressure and crazy schedules become the signs of future greatness — almost “medals,” since this attitude equates business with a form of warfare. The kind of working day that might be just acceptable to meet a deadline or cope with a panic job becomes the norm.

This attitude of "heroic" working and stoic acceptance of too much work in too little time isn’t only detrimental to physical and mental health — it’s very often harmful to business success. Stress produces adrenaline, which gears your mind for spontaneous, reflexive responses to stimuli. The more adrenaline, the more rapid and extreme your response — just like a driver subject to Road Rage. An effective business leader doesn’t act like this. What he or she needs is exactly the opposite: careful thinking, calm analysis and objective, rational decision-making. Adrenaline junkies are reactive and emotional. Successful corporate leaders should be proactive and considered in their actions.

3. Red Tape
It isn’t even as if all this work was useful. Think of the piles of reports that go unread; the multiple drafts of budgets and forecasts; the duplicate collection of similar data by three of four separate departments; the endless returns and consolidations of spreadsheets; and mundane activities like compiling meeting notes or sales estimates for next month. Much of the output of “corporate warriors” is like the activities of the real military: square-bashing and polishing kit. It’s corporate “bull.” The old adage, “Haste makes waste,” could be proved a thousand times over in nearly any large corporation.

Organizations seem totally blind to the amount of daily waste in administrative departments. According to a recent article on (based on findings by McKinsey)…
In a recent exercise that benchmarked efficiency at consumer goods companies, the best finance function was nine times more productive than the worst. Production times also varied widely. Among the largest European companies, for example, it took an average of 100 days after the end of the financial year to publish the annual numbers: the fastest did so in a mere 55 days, while the slowest took nearly 200.

Watching For Burnout
Maybe all three of these irritants are really one: the prevailing macho culture of believing the route to profitability makes workplace stress and tension inevitable. If organizations confuse constant busyness with productivity — which is what happens when they try to squeeze more work onto ever fewer workers — people are forced to pack too much into their working day. As a result, they usually end up doing less useful work, doing it less well and having more problems.

Are you working harder and harder and feel like you’re getting nothing done? Overwork and frenetic intensity are great ways to lower productivity and increase mistakes and reworking. You may be able to outperform your colleagues, but you can’t outperform your own limits.

Don’t just shrug off burnout as superstition or think you’re immune. It’s a serious issue that can wreck lives. Your health and well-being is more your concern than anyone’s.

Change comes best from within. Slow down. Take time out to think and reflect on your needs. As long as you take on tough assignments and push yourself you run the risk of going to far. You must learn where your limits lie and stay this side of them. Forget the macho nonsense that you can take whatever the world throws at you. You can’t and nor can anyone else. The sooner you slow down and allow your own best ways of coping with life to guide your actions, the better off you’ll be.

Add to Technorati Favorites Stumble Upon Toolbar


Anonymous said...

First, let me say that I have thoroughly enjoyed reading your many posts on Slow Leadership.

However, it feels like much of the content of your articles is focused towards people who work in larger organisations. As I am currently working for a startup company in its infancy, what lessons can be applied to this scenario?

I find myself on the verge of burnout (lack of interest in other activities, a feeling of constant pressure, general irratability and negativity), but I am having a difficult time reconciling 'slowing down' with an environment that demands the blood, sweat, and tears of its founding members.

Can a startup company succeed without the intense pressure (and almost inevitable burnout) that is synonymous with startups in general? When there is a strict urgency to build one's reputation and beat larger (but slower) companies with more resources to market, what can one do to stay sane?

10:12 PM  
Carmine Coyote said...

Thanks for this extremely useful comment. It requires a longer response than I can put in a comment section, so please keep reading and I'll give you my thoughts via a full posting soon.

7:25 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a  Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.5 License.