Stop saying your employee with burn-out is an incident

I visit a lot of organizations throughout the year. I like to do that, because it always gives me insights on trends within organizations. About what things are specific for them and what are issues every organization is struggling with. Think about digital transformation, more prototyping ways of working and what are we going to do with AI (Artificial Intelligence).

Over the last couple of years I have been having a lot of conversation about burn-out, vitality, energy and sick leave. I have also seen a massive growth in personal coaches making a living by helping people recover from (long-term) sick leave. On the other hand you can see a booming business of yoga retreats, mindfulness training and other sorts of organizations trying to prevent burn-out.

For quite some time I have not been an active participant (other then individual conversations) of the bigger conversation around this, because I wanted to make sure my observations were correct and I was trying to figure out what I think about all of this. I am now writing to you to make a statement. It is not about individuals trying to cope with energy, it is not about getting balance in your own life by doing yoga. I think there is something wrong with the system. And the system is working towards a burn-out apocalypse. Where more people are struggling with their energy instead of being productive and effective. I know this sounds very depressing and negative. That is not what I am trying to convey, I am trying to move the conversation from individual coaching and interventions to a change in the system. If we don’t change the system together, we will not be able to solve the issue that we have. And I believe the issue to be a big one, one that is jeopardizing our health.

This system, in my own personal point of view, is a very complex combination of factors that by no means would I be able, or anyone, to comprehend completely, but let me tell you what I think is at least a big part of it. Organisational culture, where employees are constantly put under massive stress. Either because they are pushed to take on too much responsibility or projects or not listenend to enough when they want to express themselves about how happy they truly are in their job. Organisational structure, where we don’t hire new people when someone leaves and we just expect others to take those tasks too. As if they were not already doing to much. Or maternity leave that is not covered. And as a consequence the rest of the team is put under more stress or when the new mom comes back in the office she has to take on all what hasn’t been picked up and gets sick just after being back. Our own mindsets of not standing up for ourselves, for what gives us energy, what would be most beneficial for the organization and instead following whatever we are told to do in fear or losing our jobs.

By no means is this all, these are just examples. But examples I do think we recognize. We are all part of this problem, not just the person who gets sick or overworked. And the good news is: we are in 2018 and soon 2019. We have all the resources and capabilities we need to make a change. To make sure we take better care of our employees, listen to them, helping them find the right position with the right workload in the organization and as individuals we have the capabilities to change our mindset. It is not easy, but we can.

And so my message, even if it reaches only ten people that agree, I hope inspires more people to look at it from a system point of view and help me inspire others to change our system and make the world a better place to work in.

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