Burnout – Living effectively near the boiling point

Burnout is understood by everyone as a condition you wish to avoid. Merriam – Webster defines it as exhaustion of physical or emotional strength usually as a result of prolonged stress or frustration. Individuals become less efficient and less effective and lose the very drive they need to make a positive impression. 

Additionally, many are functioning near the boiling point, within striking distance of burnout. People are working harder, smarter and longer and crashing and burning at a higher rate. Individuals are spinning out of control also, due to over indulgence, stress and sensory over load.

Burnout use to be synonymous with Type A personalities. They were legendary for flaming up and virtually evaporating from sheer mental and physical exhaustion. These individuals stood out in organization due to the small number of people who demonstrated their traits. However, the number of Type A look-alikes and Type A wannabes has grown as workloads in organizations around the world has increased. 

A common phrase I delivered to my managers who were on the verge of burnout was, “We will kill you if you let us.” This seems too often be a corporate attribute. It was the responsibility of the individual to know their limits and limitations. They were to be the circuit breaker to monitor the amount of stress they could consume. When the surge in activities became too high they were to find ways to regulate and distribute the volume of work. If they did not institute a self-defense regimen of burnout prophylaxis they would cause damage to their health, family and career. 

Burnout prophylaxis 

Most experts would agree that you can avoid or diminish burnout by a healthy lifestyle which would involve taking care of mind, body and spirit. This would involve exercise, proper diet, sufficient sleep, spiritual connection, strong relationships, and reducing stress as much as possible. At work it could involve prioritizing projects, dividing up the workload and delegating assignments. This is sometimes easier said than done.  

Just as you follow maintenance schedules for machinery such as automobiles, furnaces, air conditioners and other electrical equipment, the same should be done for your body.  Maintenance schedules in the form of a check-up and a consistent exercise routine can maintain your health. People tend to postpone their health check-ups when they are busy. These assessments are more important now than ever. Make a check list of areas of your life that could benefit from a maintenance schedule and then develop as needed. 

  • Try to maintain a healthy amount of sleep
  • Eat right and maintain as many family rituals as possible
  • Maintain your faith and spiritual development

Don’t obsess or overstress;

On minor matters focus less.

Sonya was a high energy, enthusiastic employee. Her favorite phrase was “Too blessed to be stressed.” And this mantra kept her in the emotional sate she required to manage her workload. 

Take care of your body. You are prone to illness if you don’t take care of yourself. In these difficult times, people are afraid of losing their jobs, so they go to work when sick and infect other people. Their condition gets worse and they end up taking a greater amount of time from work and cause others to miss work as well. There is a threshold over which overwork has diminishing return. Remember in college when you stayed up so late, that it took three times as long to read your assignment.

Everyone has a pain threshold, boiling point and breaking point. Know when you are being emotionally taxed by the stress associated with work. You may ask a co-worker or friend to let you know when you are particularly short or temperamental with them or others around you. 


You can’t be all things to all people and some areas are more important than others. If possible, speak to your boss about elimination or redistribution. Take the initiative because you are closer to the work and have a better understanding than your supervisor. 

  • Establish a ranking system for the important work and live with the reality that some things will not be done.  Since fewer people are doing the work in many instances, you may not be able to maintain the same level of commitment to lesser tasks.
  • Defer to the competition – give them more responsibility for minor matters, so you can concentrate on your core strengths. 

If you must take on the extra hours some things will have to go as you prioritize your work. Fred was told to take on an additional assignment which would take up 30% of his time. Since there is only so much work to physically be done, he asked which 30% of his current assignment could be removed from his docket. His boss was initially surprised, but Fred’s logical argument made sense. He developed a recommendation and the critical duties were performed, the new project handled and without a reduction in department performance. 

Teaming – Work and Home  

The valuable principles you learn at work about teaming applies in other areas of your life, such as the home and your community and church activities. 

  • Discuss workload and situation with family members
  • Plan activities for when the assignment at work reach a more normal level
  • Redistribute the workload at home
  • Be grateful that you have a job and don’t take it for granted
  • Gratitude and generosity – Continue to bless others as you have been blessed through sharing your time and resources
  • Find time to celebrate and have fun – laughter will help you make it through the difficult times
  • Find time to plan and focus on your dreams and your purpose 

Countless numbers of people are functioning near the boiling point and can successful manage to stay away from burnout. Burnout should be avoided at all costs. When you burn out, it will take a while to regain your composure, prior form and productivity levels. My philosophy around physical exercise is applicable to resisting burnout: “I work out to stay in shape, because of the pain associated with getting back in shape, when I get out of shape.” This will serve you well in preventing burnout. 

As the economy improves and business moves toward the black, employment levels should increase and you are hopefully rewarded for taking on a major increase in work load.  Hopefully, you can see the light at the end of the tunnel and it is not a train heading your way and blocking your path.

Copyright © 2011 Orlando Ceaser

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