Working hard for the sake of “working hard”: A fast-track to burn-out
“Working hard for the sake of working hard” – what is the first thought that comes to your mind when reading this? Are you blaming the person who is working too hard when it is not actually needed? Maybe. However, there are employees who work hard no matter the circumstances as it is in their nature and as per their values to do so. Usually this is the case with the “performers” in the company, those with great endurance, who are not afraid of effort and aim for perfection. They want their work to be PROPERLY done. Flawless.
Diana was committed, loyal, trustworthy and ready to help her co-workers with their educational projects, on top of her own. She was working for more than 11 years for a Dutch energy company in the Learning and Developement department. Diana was a hard worker, striving for quality in her work. She was longing for recognition, as she felt that her work was not entirely appreciated. She wanted to prove herself. One day her manager gave her a new challenge, on top of her other responsibilities. She was supposed to create from scratch a training course that her company would use internally. Diana would be the author and the trainer of the course. Diana was filled with joy. She was finally getting the opportunity to earn that recognition that she was so much longing for. She would use all her talents and skills to deliver the best possible job.
Only one thing, Diana had no experience in creating a training course, so she needed to work harder. First she needed to learn by herself about how to do the job, and then do it. She did her best. She put in the extra hours. She worked hard on top of her regular responsibilities. Lots of research, selection, drafting and editing, to create the content for three training days, handouts included.
Diana was making the last editing touches when an email caught her attention. It was an internal newsletter informing everyone that a new training course, with the same theme as the one she has been creating, was now available in the company. The course was organised by an external supplier, which meant extra financial costs for the company, compared to Diana’s human costs: time, enthusiasm and energy.
Diana was puzzled. She went to see her manager to ask for details. It turned out that the manager had no clue about Diana’s assignment. For some reason the manager “forgot” about it. He was strongly denying that he had ever requested anything like that. Diana was confused. In shock. She was speechless. Waves of anger were coursing through her veins. But she wanted to react “properly”. To be exemplary in her manners. And besides, she was shy by nature and rather introvert, keeping many emotions inside. She swallowed her feelings. Whilst she was boiling inside, her face seemed calm, almost emotionless. Her manager smiled. And then he added “with a friendly tone of voice” that in the future she should pay more attention to what is being communicated to her to avoid losing precious company time. Because “Time is Money”, right?
Today Diana is at home. She has been on sick leave for over 10 months already, diagnosed with burn-out. The episode above was one of the many situations when she gave too much and she received so little. At work she had zero recognition, her efforts were not taken seriously and on top of that, her work environment became flooded with inter-departmental conflicts, poor management and political games which had her caught in the middle and drained her of all energy, exhausting her physically and mentally.
The moral of the story? Invest in employee recognition. Reward people properly and encourage gratitude. Cultivate kindness and mindful leadership at work. Educate your managers on how to be actual leaders and care for the employees. People will actually be happier and healthier.