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Spotting the signs of organisational burnout

Blair McPherson - former Director, Author and Blogger
Managers are familiar with the concept of burnout. In response to persistent pressure the individual becomes cynical and fatigued, they lack the energy and enthusiasm that was once a characteristic of their work. A positive outlook and can do attitude is replaced by a disabling focus on anticipating problems. But does this only apply to individuals or can an organisation show the symptoms of burnout?
We keep hearing that organisations must be adaptable to survive and prosper in the fast changing post pandemic business world. There is an expectation from the top of the organisation of year on year improved performance, a tendency to set over ambitious targets, resulting in a highly pressurised environment. In the short term individuals and teams within the organisation respond to the leadership’s sense of urgency and ability to inspire.
The whole organisation is galvanised into maximum effort and improved results follow. But now expectations have been raised the organisation is expected to do even better next year. And it does. By the third year the organisation is described by independent observes as over achieving. Even those within the organisation are surprising at what has been achieved. It can’t last . And it doesn’t.
They entered a marathon and set off at a sprint. Just as recovery from burnout can be a slow careful process for an individual so to for an organisation. Scale back the ambitions. The aim now is to finish the race not to win it. Set fewer and more realistic targets. Review resources. How do we increase support?  Can we put more resources into an area to reduce the pressure? Do we need to fund this by cuts elsewhere?
The characteristics of organisational burnout include being risk adverse, a blame culture and a tendency by senior management to micro manage. The answer is to give managers more control, more freedom to be creative, encourage innovation and look to learn from things that don’t work out rather than identify scapegoats. Finally there will be casualties particularly in the leadership group because an organisation suffering burnout needs a different style of leadership less demanding more empowering.

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