Organisational Burnout


Stress is an essential part of work, enabling us to meet deadlines, deal with crisis and achieve various tasks at once etc. However, when the stress builds up and cannot be managed, we become susceptible to a condition called BURNOUT.

This has been defined as : "A process beginning with high and sustained levels of job stress, that produce subsequent feelings of tension, irritability and fatigue, ending with defensive reaction of detachment, apathy, cynicism or rigidity"  (Cherniss 1980).

The degree to which an individual is affected depends on their stress tolerance.

An individual begins to be adversely affected when their threshold for stress (comfort zone) is consistently crossed, so what may be an exciting challenge for one may be an overwhelming problem to another. Certain personality types are more prone to job stress than others, and those who are more dedicated and enthusiastic are more at risk, as are those who have difficulty in detaching themselves from work.

STRESS and ORGANISATIONAL BURNOUT do not go away, nor do they stay the same. If you do nothing they spread and grow, often in subtle ways. They rob your workplace of valuable productivity by inhibiting the staff from working to their full potential, and by de - motivating the team.

A productive and positive solution, for many workplaces would be a staff support programme that would:

  • Identify the degree of the problem
  • Identify the primary causes
  • Develop Organisational, as well as individual, strategies aimed at reducing the current problems, and preventing future occurrences
  • Regularly and consistently assess the level of burnout and stress in the Organisation
  • Evaluate the effectiveness of the programme in financial as well as human terms
  • Increase the effectiveness and credibility of your OSH Policy

When you look at your own burnout potential, you might want to answer the following questions from two perspectives; A) How you feel now, and B) how you felt 6-months ago

  1. Do you look forward to coming to work?
  2. Do you feel exhausted at the end of the day?
  3. Do you feel that there is a feeling of warmth and togetherness at your workplace?
  4. Do you share your feelings about work with my workmates and colleagues?
  5. Do you share your feelings about work with your family and friends?0
  6. Do you look forward to dealing with the general public in relation to your role?
  7. Since you began working in your current role, how have your feelings about the job changed?
  8. Do you feel as if you would like to take a break and do something else for a while?
  9. Do you feel that you need more holiday time than you currently have?
  10. How often are you absent from work due to sick days etc?
  11. Do you feel that you would like to leave your job?
  12. Do you feel that your Manager or your staff do not understand what it’s like to do your job?

There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, you may have noticed that each of them are very subjective, in other words they are based upon your perception of your job etc, not on any kind of objective “facts”. This is important because it is the over reliance on our subjective views that often create problems for us.

It is therefore vital to be able to match our perception against other people’s perceptions, and whilst neither may be considered completely “right”, both will have validity to some degree.

The reason to consider the questions from a current perspective and a past perspective is to give the view that frequently, we fantasize positively about the past (it was better then!!!!). If you do this questionnaire at regular intervals, you may see a pattern of this developing in your own perspective.

Therefore you can set yourself some goals to ensure that you manage your stress positively, and that you “control” your subjective perception of your workplace, and this also applies to your staff (and your manager!)

To finish I offer the following quotation:

“If you want to spend tomorrow being glad you did it, you have got to do it today”


Ian Harper


Ian Harper is the founder of STEM:NZ and has been called “an undiscovered motivational luminary”. He has built up a very positive reputation and has spoken at various conferences in N.Z. Australia, England and Eire.

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