The first contact of the year came from the brother of a friend of mine. My friendship with my friend had started some years ago when he had returned from overseas and was trying to find an executive role in the UK.
Now his brother needed help. These are bright guys – excellent academic backgrounds and post graduate professional qualifications. This new connection was suffering and his elder brother, listening to his stuff over the Christmas break, offered an introduction.
The conversation between Christmas and the New Year with (let’s call him) Geoff started off with “I am burnt out, exhausted, frustrated and need help”. I was curious that a guy working in a company that I know, which has been having a good run of growth in recent years and who is working right at the top of organisation should be feeling like this. When we were discussing when we might meet, it was clear that his mind was like a microscopic diary – he could pinpoint his time and his outputs up to 4 months in the future by the day. He was burdened not just by what had been happening (more anon), but by what he knew he would be required to do in the coming year.
I looked at his CV. I reflected on what I had heard. It was difficult to reconcile how this bright and successful man in his late 40s, with a seriously good background, could have got into this burnt out state.
When the recession started to bite, the performance of the business came under pressure. The company had been on a good run for some considerable time. The sector they are in is always tough in a recession – one of the first to go into recession and one of the first out, typically.
As a senior executive on the management team and probably one of the closest to the CEO, this man has a close eye on the business’s performance. He is expected to know everything and be a key driver in the downsizing of the business. Nothing new so far.
There were a few interesting things. First, the CEO was a bully. As the pressure was mounting to produce a good year for the shareholders, the behaviour of the CEO became more unreasonable and the actions he was expecting more unreasonable too. Second, for Geoff, he was expecting to trample over the domains of his colleagues to action what the CEO was demanding. Third, Geoff had not inherited a strong departmental team. Having settled in, he was at the start of reshaping the when the edict came that there would be no recruitment. He was stuck with a sub-standard team as the pressure has been mounting and he was required to do even more work.
This case reminded me of a recent article in The Times about the long hours being worked in the UK just now. “Millions would happily put in a few extra hours during 2010 in return for ending the year in employment” was one of the key points. “Workers fear the consequences of not putting in the time required to do the job — perhaps for their companies, or perhaps for their job prospects. “Millions of people are still working far too many hours and often they are not even being paid for it. This long-hours culture causes stress and damages people’s health.”
It doesn’t matter who you are, how senior you are, this culture can get to you. You can get burnt out. A combination of heavy load (often exacerbated in a recession as the old teams are reduced in size), increased pressure and unreasonable behaviours by seniors can lead to fatigued, stressed, disgruntled, burnt out employees.
If you’re tired, stressed and burnt out – we can help you. Maybe it’s time for a change eh?
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