Recently I attended another conference on sustainable employability. Or should I better call it sustainable…
The phenomenon burnout is having widespread media attention. From government to media agencies, news stories, personal opinions, all contribute to an abundance of information about burnout. However, what is the real practical value of the numerous publications for an executive or entrepreneur looking for information about the emergence and recovery of a (beginning) Burnout?
The versatile and often individual characteristics of continuous stress and eventually, a beginning burnout or even complete burnout may be well-known, but are they also practically recognized in a professional setting?
In my humble opinion, with all the knowledge available at present, only a small part of the help offered focuses specifically on the root cause, and covers thus also the prevalence of recurrence.
Almost exclusively responses to burnout are a reaction to symptoms, which according to many are the result of external factors. This approach often results in small, slow, and unfortunately, little sustainable improvement for an executive or entrepreneur with a beginning burnout.
The fragmentation in burnout approach is particularly large and the amount of practice experts – psychologists, coaches, consultants, general practitioners, occupational and medical professionals, is innumerable and diverse. Deciding on a path to choose when an executive or entrepreneur is struggling with performance issues and/or (beginning) burnout is overwhelming and therefore very hard to do.
When we briefly describe the various symptoms of burnout, we soon will discover this is not a mental performance problem:
|o Exhaustion||o Memory problems|
|o Attention and concentration disorders||o Performance problems|
|o Rage outbreaks||o (Unexplainable) crying|
|o Loss of patience||o Sombreness or guilt (but different from when found in individuals diagnosed with clinical depression)|
|o Resistance to one’s own work|
In addition, there are also many stress-related, additional psychosomatic symptoms:
|o Heart palpitations||o Hyperventilation|
|o Gastrointestinal and/or intestinal disorders||o Various types of pain|
|o Overall feeling of malaise||o Sleep problems (both falling asleep and continuing sleep)|
|o Infinite thinking about problem issues||o Panic attacks|
When Burnout hits an executive or entrepreneur, not only is the organization desperate, but also the person with the burnout herself/himself. There are at that moment an abundance of feelings, ranging from denial, disbelief, impotence, hopelessness, powerlessness, and even feelings of worthlessness.
This same executive or entrepreneur has until now experienced a great deal of success and independence. She/he has a (very) good intellectual ability, yet feels very ignorant in the given situation. Often for the first time, a lack of clarity and vision, puts a brake on performance. This gives an unusual level of performance barriers and blockages, which result in a feeling that things no longer move along as they should do.
For example, after failing to act as a member of a supervisory board through a major conflict with the chairman, stalling in a position that has been successful until recently and perhaps even leading an enterprise into bankruptcy, the executive or entrepreneur has often formed a negative self-image. She/he is clearly no longer the self-confident executive from before. Even everyday tasks cost a lot of effort and energy to accomplish successfully.
Most executives or entrepreneurs have not thought about Burnout, and certainly not the fact that it could hit them personally. Often, when looking for solutions, they are thought to be in still working (even) harder. From experience, almost all executives or entrepreneurs have a great sense of duty. A sense of having to continue the work – to keep moving – a clear sense of having to meet the daily obligations (real or imaginary).
Many executives or entrepreneurs wave away body signals, consider these important, but not relevant for now. Eventually, the stress of everyday life has become so big that it is no longer an option to keep fooling themselves, acting as if nothing is going on. However, in the vast majority of cases, even then they still have no idea what just happened.
In addition to a 24-hour stress economy caused within the person, the judging environment – organisation, family and friends, add even a little more on top of that. Burnout is nearly always considered as a personal and professional failure and perceived as an executive or entrepreneurial weakness. Failure caused as a result of not being able to meet one’s own high expectations.
This not only presents problems in the organisation, but also privately. What is one going to tell the environment (organisation and privately)? Furthermore, in the run-up to a (beginning) burnout, there are also unusual and more frequent conflicts with the partner, children, but also with co-management team members at work.
Success is No Insurance against Burnout
It is certainly not true that successful executives or entrepreneurs do not run the risk of getting a (beginning) burnout. The work itself, is as it were, just the tip of the proverbial iceberg.
Actions and behaviour are above the water surface results. What is happening under the water surface in an (beginning) burnout is much more important. Root-causes must therefore be sought outside the direct field of vision.
When there is an imaginary and widening gap between where the executive or entrepreneur ought to be and where she/he emotionally perceives to be, it will ultimately lead to total energy loss – with burnout as a result.
There is an imbalance between energy-consuming and energy-generating activities. One could say the executive or entrepreneur makes a continuous and unconscious Return on Investment (ROI) balance.
If a negative ROI balance is the regular result, that is, an imbalance between what is invested in the job and what is personally and emotionally perceived to be received in return, (beginning) burnout occurs.
Burnout has Nothing to do with Intellect
The statement that really smart executives or successful entrepreneurs could not get a burnout is a popular fable. This implies that executives or entrepreneurs with widely varying intellectual levels can get a Burnout – and they do.
This is important to mention because the thought formation after the first communication about an executive or entrepreneur with a burnout is often one of – how can it be, she/he is so clever, creative and successful in business?
Could it be that many executives or entrepreneurs do not know they are developing an (beginning) burnout?
A Burnout Cannot be Rationalised
Burnout may (with help) be analysed, but a burnout can unfortunately not be rationalised. If a burnout would have a mental reason – the executive or entrepreneur could argue its way out. One could simply think of ways either not to get into a Burnout situation, or when it still would occur, quickly and safely argue itself out.
Unfortunately, the truth is much more nuanced and for the many analytical and left brain oriented amongst us, burnout can unfortunately not be rationalised or understood. Fortunately, it can be analysed.
The ‘Snapping’ Cannot be Controlled
The process of an executive or entrepreneur ‘Snapping’ by an (beginning) burnout may develop over time, the ultimate timing of occurrence cannot be prevented by conscious action. The resulting 24-hour stress economy cannot be rationally explained.
Burnout often seems to occur suddenly and just at a time when the executive or entrepreneur least expects it – when one has performed well in a job for a long period of time and has been quite successful at it – when one thinks, things are going well. However, the start of an (beginning) burnout is not so much related to work volume, but has much more to do with emotional ‘nutrition’ the executive or entrepreneur believes to receive from its work. If this is not, or insufficiently in line with personal expectation (beliefs), the emotional ‘hunger’ will cause for the executive to no longer be able to deliver a desired performance level.
The Biggest Recovery Pitfall
At the level of action, the executive or entrepreneur may be able to analyse the situation in part, but when they also plan to resolve the situation at this level, they step into the biggest pitfall of Burnout recovery.
To me, one of the biggest misunderstandings in the relief efforts of (beginning) burnout is that a good plan aimed at making changes in external action will create sustainable personal change. For example, it is recommended to take compulsory breaks, to take training in time management methods, to say “no” more often and to provide even more rational solutions for this non-rational situation. Not that these kinds of things cannot be supportive to an executive or entrepreneur – one should however never expect for these to lead to sustainable recovery of (beginning) burnout.
For information, the current Burnout recurrence rate stands at around seventy (70) percent according to a variety of data sources!
Burnout is not what many people may think – a situation caused by too much work, which can be resolved and then be further prevented by action-oriented training and learning.
Preventing a (beginning) burnout to occur is definitely far better than healing from one. Also, it may be quite interesting to mention that prevention and recovery of a (beginning) Burnout is based on the same principles.
I learned that some people in organisations believe, one may better be facing a serious illness than getting an (beginning) burnout. When faced with the first category, in most organisations there is a clear recovery and support path – for the person with (beginning) burnout, this is unfortunately not the case. When personal workload capacity is being questioned and at stake for an individual, finding sustainable solutions quickly turns out to be very complicated. This holds even more truth when it concerns an executive or entrepreneur.
Over the last thirty years, I have brought organizations and individuals to a higher level of performance. As an executive and as an entrepreneur, I have always searched for targeted, effective and measurable solutions – both for others and for myself. Similarly, when supporting executives or entrepreneurs with (beginning) Burnout.
Executive or entrepreneurial burnout is thus more than “Falling Rising and Moving Again”. To me, it is critical to provide an executive or entrepreneur with an (beginning) burnout as quickly as possible grip at the situation again, by clearly mapping root causes of the burnout and systematically and step-wise removing them.
Professionally searching for and mapping these root-causes, and step by step managing the situation within the unique context of the executive or entrepreneur with an (beginning) burnout, can lead to sustainable and speedier recovery. In my humble opinion and from my own practical experience, I can conclude that it is not without risk to advise and provide relief efforts to executives or entrepreneurs with an (beginning) burnout outside of the business context.
In my practice, I use my proprietary True Change™ Executive Coaching. A five (5) step roadmap, which assists in mapping and removing root causes, and rediscovering lost vision and personal space – something that is urgently needed for successful reintegration and sustainable burnout recovery.
Furthermore, as part of the process, the executive or entrepreneur learns relatively simple, yet very powerful executive performance tools. This way, contributions to sustainable change can be made, not just in the current situation, but also in future situations. This will practically support the executive or entrepreneur in a way, so that she/he can make confident choices and exercise her/his duties with passion.
As there is still a lot of incomprehension, naivety and a range of popular fables about executive or entrepreneurial burnout, I do hope this article has positively contributed to a better understanding. I also hope that discussion about this topic can further contribute to reducing the huge taboo currently prevailing, to talk about executive or entrepreneurial performance issues.
Let all of us in talking about executives or entrepreneurs with an (beginning) burnout, not just refer to them as “performance failures” and/or “weak individuals”. Keeping dialogue about this common and complex performance issue is crucial – otherwise who else would continue to like to publicly discuss their own Burnout experiences in this context?
Would you like to know how stress-fit™ you may be at this time, or would you like to receive more information on True Change™ Executive Coaching and perhaps plan a free strategy coaching session? Please contact me confidentially and without obligation Tel. +31(0)30-2006761, or email me at: firstname.lastname@example.org. Alternatively, you may also use the Top-Coach website contact form to contact me.
I wish you good health and continuous success,
Johan F. Reinhoudt
CEO/owner Top-Coach and Certified Master Executive Coach