Burnout: A Case Study

burnout LPA BLOG HEADER (2)

Talented Employees Can Still Burnout

(originally published on LinkedIn - October 10, 2016)

We've recently has Stress Awareness Day, but as employers we should always have the well-being of our employees at the forefront of our minds and, in my opinion, as part of our overall business plans, so I thought I'd mark today with a thought provoking case study story. One of many I could write.

So I chose George. Not his real name but a real life case study nevertheless.

At 53 years of age George burnt out and never worked again. Yes it was work related. Yes it was personal.

How does burnout arise?

Firstly, many of the organisations I work in still feel unable to tackle mental health through fear of litigation. Fearful if they acknowledge it a claim for work related stress will come their way. Creating a culture where employees can discuss their work and home issues, work flexibly and admit when they are struggling, results in fewer long-term absences than in those organisations that ignore signs of stress.

Managers need to be emotionally intelligent and know their staff as individuals and human beings to achieve a well-being culture.

George worked in the construction industry - man and boy. He became a Director for the last 10 years of his career. He was well respected, one of the best in the company. Not the best at delegating, but an excellent negotiator, great at assessing business risk, pricing and winning jobs.
Geroge also had ageing parents, one with Alzheimer's. He went to see them every night after a day at work - meaning he left the house at 7:30am and not returning home until 8:00 pm.
The company and executive directors knew about George's situation. They knew he was a good manager, had good people skills and was excellent at his job.

We know change is the only certainty in our organisations and this company was no different. Like their competitors they had to implement new systems, processes and human resources strategy. Like many organisations I come across, things were implemented as initiatives rather than strategic projects embedded within the business or growth strategy. Reactive rather than proactive

George took responsibility for new computer systems (when he started work there were no computers!), Investors in People (IIP), health & Safety, etc. as well as his director role.

A further point - delegation! He should have delegated. But many of the people I work with tell us under stress and pressure they go into process mode, meaning they can't think about the how and why they do things. They simply focus on getting done what is already too much to cope with.

As someone said to me: "Once you're in it, it's so hard to do anything else but wade through the treacle with lead boots on. You just plough on!"

Colleagues noticed the change in George. They offered counselling, which he attended. Workload and patterns didn't change. No one took a look at his workload. HR did all the usual better health at work - smoking cessation, drugs and alcohol, food and mood.... and so on. There was no signposting to support agencies, no flexible working, no well-being culture audit or employee engagement reviews.

Both parties "ploughing on". George in his circle of overload with work and parents, and the organisation doing business as usual.

Can you see how it all went wrong? How it imploded until George could take no more?

Points to note:

Stress and depression are not an event that just happens one day - it is a process that gradually builds until, without intervention, the person crashes and burns.

The loss - George's career, self esteem and mental well-being. George was a loss to the organisation. So much so they had to restructure significantly.

The investment - George's career investment, his education. The organisations investment in him.

Time - managing the absence, strain on George's mental health as he went through assessments.

A significant cost to all!

Do you have a George in your business? What's your approach to career planning? Do you engage employees? Do you review your culture for well-being? Do you sign-post local support agencies? Can your employees talk openly? 

If *YOU* are a George here are some organisations that may help: