Burnout City

by: Joanne Meehl

I was talking this past week with another career coach about how companies are demanding more and more and more from employees. And are getting it.

A client I'll call Bob who wants to leave his current job talks of how his manager expressed extreme disappointment that Bob would not make himself available via computer on Thanksgiving Day for software developers at work in China, if they should need him. Bob was not having family in from out of town but claimed plans that he couldn't break, because he was astounded his manager thought he'd readily be available on a holiday. Bob was normally available many weekends during the year on top of his usual 55+ hours a week, but this was a holiday and everyone was talking about their plans. His manager didn't stop there: "So I assume you'll make yourself available, then, the rest of the weekend?" Bob declined and is working even harder to find a new job. He says, "Whatever happened to boundaries around a big holiday?" and "They can't pay me enough to live like that."

Then there's the 25-point list of desired tech skills that we see in software development job postings. The company is asking for things that rarely go together: either the client hasn't lived long enough yet, or the shifts in their (very normal) career have precluded that they learn all 25 things on that list. Clients ask, "How can these companies find anyone who has all this stuff?" Depending on the local job market, they can.

Why do companies, especially software companies, do this? Well, what they've done is merged two or three jobs into one. This saves a huge amount of money, and it means that through extreme multitasking, the person can get many things done. These things may not get done very well, and the worker may not find it very satisfying, but hey, that person will be able to turn out something. For one salary.

There's definitely a push-push-push of professionals today at a level that was once reserved for their very highly-paid executives. Some companies and industries will say "That's how we work in this industry." But it's all by the seat of the pants and it's panic-driven. It's what Stephen Covey would call Quadrant I thinking, which is reactive, it's operating in response to crisis, it's putting out fires. It leads to burnout and exhaustion. There's little investing in their people for future returns, which Covey would call Quadrant II, the kind of thinking and managing that's proactive, re-creative, and into planting seeds for the future. Too few companies in any industry in the US are in Quadrant II. Shareholder demands create a "this quarter" mentality.

Maybe we can try something new: No work after hours. This might mean that people can actually get away from their work for possibly half of their waking hours (based on a typical six hours of sleep that many get today), so that their brains get a rest and can be sharper when they actually do sit down to work. That would still allow for a nine-hour day at work.

Pulling people away from their families over and over again creates Burnout City: downright poor management of time and people. It hurts professionals and their families, who feel caught and exhausted and never quite dis-engaged from their work. And companies lose good people.

Over time, no one really wins.


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