Helping the Chronically Overworked Find Life Balance

How To Avoid Burnout in 2014

businessman bending spoon by mind force

If you are fortunate enough to work in a healthy and collaborative environment, there still may be an imperative to work more hours.

In fact, when things are going well, and everyone is having a great time, there is a powerful wave of positive reinforcement for putting in more hours. The trill of accomplishment and the halo of success are the sugar buzz of the corporate world. While it lasts, nothing feels better. But what are you giving up outside of work to keep it going? Balance requires that we learn to say no, even if it feels good to say yes to more work.

If you work in a more typical environment, or one that shades towards the toxic and chaotic, you are at the mercy of changing deadlines and priorities that can be hard to resist. As much as we’d like to get away from the day-to-day firefighting, the inferno seems to be constantly raging around us. The key once again is learning to say no, in this case combined with a recognition that it is ok to let the fires burn.

In the 1970 movie Beneath Planet of the Apes, mutant humans have mental powers, and at one point project the illusion of fire to prevent the ape army from invading their territory. But one ape, the nefarious Dr. Zaius sees through the illusion, overcomes his fear, and rides right through the flames, at which point they disappear.

In a similar way, the intensity of the fires at work are an illusion, in that they project a fear that catastrophe awaits if we do not attend them. And how do we overcome an illusion? It takes a clear head, and the willingness to take a leap of faith. Give it a try – let a small one burn. Don’t check email one evening, and see what happens. If you keep trying to fight every fire, you’ll be the one who burns. And that is the truth.

Understanding the Impact of a Hockey Stick Culture

Chapter 6:  Corporate Culture -The Invisible Hand of the Company Part 5

In the last post, Harry T. Wolf explained why he could not change the culture of Goldman Sachs if he became CEO.  And, we saw how Harry went about changing a “negative, finger pointing, aggressive culture.” It took Harry years to make changes, and he had the support of the board to make it happen.

Prior to his current (and second) stint as CEO, Harry was the Chief Operating Officer (COO) of a technology company in Silicon Valley I’ll call “ScorpCo*”.  During Harry’s first year, the company launched a complete upgrade to its platform – software, hardware, peripherals and third party components.  “I am intensely proud of what the organization achieved during that year.  [We delivered] it all, and had successful sales.  In most companies, you get paid it big bonus for that.  It didn’t work that way at Scorpco.”  Wall Street rewarded the company for making its numbers.  Harry was demoted.

The year was difficult – Harry had to defend many decisions publically that he did not agree with.  “I’m a firm believer that if you’re part of a management team that by whatever mechanism decides on a course of action, it’s your duty to carry it out with absolutely the best grace you can. I have always tried to take ownership of that decision, rather than place it as a third party decision.”  Harry had a philosophy of long term objectives, but the company was perpetually focused on the short term – “60% of revenue came in last 48 hrs [of the quarter.]**  It’s a crazy way to run a business.”   According to Harry “burnout was high” among employees, and he felt “sheer exhaustion, both physical and emotional.”

It doesn’t have to be that way, and Harry’s life got much better after he left the company.  The reason why he left surprised me.

<<Previous  Next>>

*ScorpCo is a fictitious name I picked because the CEO is a Scorpion.  This post from Chapter 4 gives an example of working for a Scorpion

** A hockey stick culture like this will eventually exhaust everyone both in and out of sales.