Who is responsible for burn out?

The concept of burn out is something that I have been pondering for the past couple of years. I saw a culture of burn out in an organisation I was part of and wanted to know how to change that. When multiple leaders are burning out in one organisation, who is responsible for that? Is it the fault of the organisation or the people themselves? Who needs to work at resolving it? Maybe you have found yourself at that point where you have hit a wall and cannot keep pushing any longer. Maybe you have seen people around you reach that point.

The conclusion that I have come to is that it is both the person and the organisation who are responsible. Each has a role to play in what leads to burn out and in resolving it. The organisation has a responsibility to assess the expectations they place on their members, the culture that is set up, the support systems that are in place and what the upper levels of leadership are modelling. The person has the responsibility to be taking care of the!selves, seeking support when it is needed, speaking up when changes are needed and taking action. In general, neither party is wholly to “blame”.

I have felt the weight of the responsibility to evaluate our organisation and the way we do things. This is an ongoing process. I wanted to know if the expectations we place on our leaders was realistic and manageable. What circumstances make them less so? What are the differences that make one group of leaders thrive and another sink under the weight? I also became aware of the responsibility I have to call out signs of burn out when I see them. I naturally avoid hard conversations and confrontation but I am learning to be better in this arena in ways that still feel true to me and who I am. So often burn out is evident to others before the person recognises it and yet it isn’t discussed. Let’s be on the look out for our colleagues and fellow leaders. Be close enough with them to notice warning signs that they aren’t coping so well. Ask them how they are coping. Ask them the tough questions about how they are taking care of themselves. We all have a responsibility in this, not only the policy makers in an organisation. Culture is built with each of us doing our part.

An organisation can have all the right procedures and supports in place and yet a leader can still burn out. Each of us as individuals has a responsibility to be taking care of ourselves too. Do you make self care a priority in your life? Do you regularly reflect on and re-evaluate how you are coping, your schedule, your headspace capacity and the demands of family, work and everything else? Do you accept help and support when it is offered? Do you place unrealistic expectations on yourself that no one else is actually expecting from you? So often it is the internal dialogue and lack of healthy boundaries and even lack of self esteem that cascade into burn out situations. I speak from authority on this as these are all things I have to continually work on myself. I remember being completely devastated as a primary school student because I only got 90 something percent on a maths test and it didn’t meet up to my own standards. My parents had never once even hinted at these expectations and they worked hard at bringing some reality to those expectations. We are our own worst enemies and we often don’t see it until it is too late. Let’s become more self aware and learn that we aren’t superhuman and no one expects us to be. Let’s learn to accept help and not see it as a sign of weakness but of strength.

Giving ourselves permission to be human, to make mistakes, not to be able to do everything, gives those around us permission too. We can unconsciously have an impact on the burn out levels of others if they see the expectations we try to meet for ourselves as what they should be doing too. The little eyes in our lives are particularly susceptible to this but it is true for our fellow leaders too. You need to be imperfect so that others can be as well. It is a matter of authenticity. Let’s learn to be vulnerable with our community.

Burn out is a complex issues with so many factors. I by no means want to assign blame or shame anyone who has been or is going through it. I have been there myself. I simply want to acknowledge that we all have a role to play in preventing this. I long for the day when no one leaves our organisation because they are burnt out but only because it is the right season for them to move on. There is still work to be done at an organisational level. Part of that is encouraging all of our leaders to be doing the work they need to do themselves to be caring for themselves and developing the resilience needed to prevent burn out. Maybe one of the questions or thoughts in this post have triggered something within you. Maybe you need to find a safe person to talk it through with or carve out some time to spend reflecting and evaluating. Let’s spur one another on in love.

This post is part of a series for Write 31 Days called “For Your Encouragement.” I am taking requests from readers on what they want encouragement about and responding to the best of my ability. I would love to hear from you.

You can read the rest of the posts in this series here.