Executive Stress, Burnout and Racing Cars

By Dr Peter Downey

Burnout must cost companies millions of dollars each year – but the real emotional cost on people and relationships must be hard to measure. One recent study showed that over 50% of employees found work overwhelming. Below, a new addition to our team -Dr Peter Downey, who studied this topic for his doctorate, shares a few quick thoughts


STRESS
“when you wake up screaming and you realise you haven’t fallen asleep yet”

 

There is a great scene in the movie from the last decade Days of Thunder. Tom Cruise is a race-car driver screaming around a race track in a noisy blur of smoke and colour.

Coming into a straight, he puts his foot right to the floor. The car screams, the tacho leaps up into the red and the engine promptly explodes, rendering it immediately useless. It loses all speed and limps to the side of the track, a dead, useless vehicle.

His problem was that he pushed his car too far and as a consequence, it died. The engine was put under too much stress so it burnt-out.

Unfortunately, many executives in the business world have also got their foot to the floor, unaware that burnout lies just around the corner. The consequences can be disastrous and costly, not only for the individual but also for the company.

One of the dominant features of the work arena of the 21st Century is that of rapid change. We are often changing jobs, roles and tasks, and many workers find themselves juggling changing technology and performing an increased number of tasks they were often never trained to do. Unfortunately, change is one of the most significant factors is worker stress and burnout.

Some other causes include: role ambiguity, overload, office politics, poor communication, low levels of consultation, inflexible restrictions, role conflict, lack of adequate training and low levels of personal support.

Academic research testifies to the enormous increase in corporate stress and burnout statistics, with one newspaper even referring to workplace stress as reaching “epidemic proportions”. The bottom line is that this can be very costly for companies, especially as burnout tends to target workers who are highly dedicated and enthusiastic – just the workers you want to keep!

Burnt-out workers become disillusioned, frustrated, resentful and aggressive. They may “give-up” and their work performance may shift from “impressive” to “barely adequate”. A range of negative physical and psychological factors can also occur – at an extreme including alcoholism, increased smoking, suicidal tendencies, and coronary heart disease.

If companies are to look after their workers (especially their middle management teams!) of the 21st Century, they must be aware of this issue and deal with it. The “foot to the floor” mentality of the last few decades will no longer cut it in the corporate world, and steps must be taken before the taco hits the red and companies find themselves with teams of workers with burnt-out engines who are limping out their doors in droves.

 

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