Danger Signs of Burnout

The chief operating officer of a highly successful public company recently shared a story with me about the company’s struggles to survive during its early years. Securing financial backing was a daily struggle, one that never seemed to end. A repeating cycle found executives ever so close to closing a deal with a new investor, only to have it fall through at the last minute. The company was living paycheck-to-paycheck. The hours were long, the defeats were numerous, the challenges seemingly insurmountable.

One evening, the COO and CEO were having dinner with their largest investor. The venture capitalist could tell the two executives were exhausted, and shared this observation:

“A majority of companies in which we invest fail,” said the investor. “They don’t fail because the company can’t secure financial backing, or because they lack expertise or business savvy.”

“They fail because the executives burn out.”

Burnout has always been a risk for hard-working business people, especially during the long hours involved in entrepreneurial start-ups. I would argue that the potential for burnout has grown significantly in recent years. Everything moves faster today. Technology, competition, the globalization of everything and the constantly evolving changes in society combine to create an almost frantic demand on our emotional, intellectual and physical resources. The desire for work-life balance can seem like a hopeless fantasy for many.

There are three important strategies for dealing with burnout. First is to develop strategies for preventing burnout. Second is to recognize the symptoms and third is to take steps to combat burnout in your self and/or other team members.

How do you know if you are experiencing burnout? Here are common signs:

  1. Exhaustion. Are you feeling tired and physically drained all the time?
  1. Emotional. Do you find yourself angry a lot? Feelings of depression or anxiety are symptoms. If you are experiencing burnout, these emotions will begin to occur regularly.
  1. Loss of Enthusiasm. Do you find yourself avoiding people and responsibilities? Procrastination can be a sign of burnout.
  1. Relational conflict. Are you finding it harder to deal with people? If you are emotionally drained, you will tend to overreact.
  1. Not making a difference. Do you feel like nothing you do seems to matter? Feel unappreciated? Does working seem pointless? All signs of burnout.
  1. Health problems. Do you experience more minor ailments such as colds, aches, pains, inability to sleep.
  1. Substance abuse. Have you increased your consumption of alcohol, caffeine, tobacco or other drugs? That can make all of the first six symptoms even worse.

Burnout is a gradual process. It often creeps up on a person over time and can take a serious toll before you realized you are experiencing it. Recognizing the symptoms can help you develop strategies to combat burnout in your life. Once you recognize symptoms, its time to take aggressive action.

In my next post, I’ll look at strategies for dealing with burnout.