Conquering Burnout

In our cover story for the January 2015 issue of Scientific American Mind (Conquering Burnout), Christina Maslach and I reflected on the challenge of planned change.

The beginning of a new year prompts lots of talk about how hard it is to stick to resolutions. Planet Money reported on gyms where half of the members never visited during their entire year’s membership. And some of them then renewed that membership. Following through on good intentions is tough.

The challenges are even greater when addressing job burnout.

The first point is that a workgroup is a matrix. Once within this matrix, no action is totally independent. Each person’s actions influences the experience of others. A colleague’s contribution to a report may free you form some drudgery or constrain the possibilities for your contributions. Often the actions of others both free and constrain in different ways.

The second point is that burnout arises from important issues. Basic mismatches of people and their workloads or profound disagreements on core values aggravate burnout. Changing the color of our smartphone cover will not reduce burnout. Alleviating burnout requires that you change something that really matters about how you participate in your job.

The actions you take to address burnout will create ripples that will affect others and prompt them to respond. Some of those responses may further your quest but some with run directly contrary.

Change is possible but it never unfolds just as you planned.

If you have an opportunity to read the article, I’d love to read your comments.

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