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6 Mismatches In The Workplace Lead to People Burnout

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exhausted-employeeOne of the dysfunctions I often see in my coaching and mentoring work with small businesses is team member burnout. The impact is low employee engagement, low productivity, and ultimately business failure or lack of growth. Most people see this as a management failure, but I believe that you as a team member have an equal responsibility in recognizing the problem and fixing it.

It is no secret that the recent pandemic has exacerbated this problem as companies lost more and more of their employees due to illness, economic contraction, and voluntary resignations. The ones who are still working have learned that they can work remotely, and they are searching for more flexibility and a better work-life balance to prevent the burnout they experienced earlier.

I was recently impressed with the detailed analysis and recommendations made on this subject in a new book, “The Burnout Challenge,” by Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter. These authors bring their in-depth scientific background, as well as real-world consulting experience on the subject of burnout. I will summarize their conclusions here, with my own business insights added:

  1. Job requirements are judged to be excessive. Burnout occurs for many when your job demands are too many, the hours are too long, and the resources to handle them are too few. To survive, you must focus on recovery and resiliency, strive to achieve a balance between resources and demands, and set clear boundaries between work and non-work.

    This situation is only exacerbated by today’s remote work from home, where your work problems are unseen by others, and you have to manage the distractions of normal home activities, including children and pets. The stress alone from these can be debilitating.

  2. Workers feel they have little control over work. This occurs when an organization imposes narrow constraints on how work is to be done or allows no room for judgment or innovation. This can be turned around by earning the trust to be more participative and demonstrating the ongoing productivity required to be granted autonomy and flexibility.

    I am convinced that a primary reason for “The Great Resignation” that many companies are experiencing today is that workers are realizing they have less and less control over their work. A recent survey shows that most value real flexibility over salary and benefits.

  3. Rewards are out of balance with effort and results. Money always matters, but appreciation and social recognition are important and meaningful rewards for all employees. Maintaining a culture of appreciation requires your explicit public recognition of contributions, as well as commensurate and fair monetary and non-monetary rewards.

    Also, every study I have seen shows that the right rewards are the key to a motivated and engaged team. Don’t be afraid to ask your team for motivation ideas and strategies. You will likely be amazed at the variety, simplicity, and low business cost of their suggestions.

  4. Sense of community and relationships is missing. The quality of the relationships among employees on the job constitutes the community bedrock needed to provide social support and eliminate burnout. You can improve your office culture by nurturing positive relationships with people, actively listening to feedback, and coaching peers.

    Another key to community is adopting a common higher purpose, such as a social or environmental cause, rather than financial gain alone. For example, Patagonia donates one percent of their sales to environmental charities, and has a high sense of community.

  5. Organization acts without fairness and respect. At work, fairness is perceived as the extent to which decisions are just and equitable. In turn, people treat workplaces fairly when they respect company policies and procedures. You must lead a combined effort, and a willingness to listen and accept change, to achieve an improvement in fairness.

  6. Company values do not match personal values. Values are the motivating connection between you and the job, and they go far beyond the utilitarian exchange of time for money or advancement. These can be a deal-killer, and I urge you look hard at the values inherent in a business or role before you join. Always live and work YOUR values.

If you currently see the signs of burnout in your team and your organization, I strongly urge you to evaluate the causes and recommendations summarized here and communicate them to owners and executives, before the costs and risks are beyond recovery for your organization. Your career and your job satisfaction are at stake, as well as the long-term health of your business.

Marty Zwilling

*** First published on on 12/2/2022 ***

Martin Zwilling is the Founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides services to startup founders around the world. See more details at


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