The World Health Organization (WHO) has officially recognized burnout as a medical condition, adding it to the International Classification of Diseases. According to the WHO, burnout is simply “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The result? Less energy, less positivity, and less success.
In addition to concerns about burnout among employees, there has been a rise in awareness about the stress of being an entrepreneur. Inc. magazine released an article, “The Psychological Price of Entrepreneurship”, which states, “it’s time to be honest about how brutal [building a company] is—and the price some founders secretly pay.” The recognition of the problems caused by workplace stress and burnout is heartening, but the real challenge is finding a cure. That’s precisely what we’ve been doing for years.
Most of the advice about dealing with workplace stress, like “take a vacation,” “play harder,” or “bring a pet to work” only offers temporary relief. These interventions address the symptoms of stress but do little, if anything, to get at the root cause of the problem. Taking a vacation from a job that’s killing you then going back to the same crushing stress you just escaped for a couple weeks is no solution. Having a job where you thrive, that you’re excited to get back to after the vacation—that’s the solution.
In working with our clients, we’ve consistently seen that when people are required to work against their instinctive strengths they report higher levels of stress, miss more work, and ultimately are more likely to quit or be fired. Giving them more money and more perks (free food and drinks, cool break rooms, more vacation, stand-up desks) only delays the inevitable.
The long-term solution is creating alignment between a person’s conative strengths and the demands of the job. For example, Counter-acting Follow Thrus, who thrive when tasks are open-ended, flexible and avoid intricate procedures, will be stressed-out if their job requires creating structure, processes, and bringing one project at a time to closure before working on anything else. The solution for stress like this is to identify that this mis-match is causing the stress, and then finding the best ways to reorganize the job, without sacrificing the expectations of getting done what needs to get done.
The quickest way to spot conative mismatches in the workplace is to compare a person’s Kolbe A™ Index results with the Kolbe B™ Index result for their job. The Kolbe B Index identifies the current expectations for how your job needs to get done. Where there’s a significant gap between your strengths (the Kolbe A) and your job requirements (the Kolbe B), job stress arises.
That’s only the diagnosis. The cure is a combination of changing the job and learning ways to minimize the stress of the parts of a job that can’t change and are still not a great fit for you.
Yes, sometimes the solution is changing jobs entirely (quitting one and starting another), but more often it’s less dramatic: shifting some responsibilities; teaming with another person who has complementary strengths; focusing on results and allowing flexibility in terms of process.
Another part of the solution is understanding that we all have to do some things that aren’t a perfect fit for our strengths. By all means, work to align your strengths to your job first. But when you have to do things that aren’t a great fit (and that could be in your personal life in addition to your professional one), be ready with techniques to minimize the frustration and burnout that can arise: tackle those tasks first thing in your day when you still have energy; set a time limit so you can get back to more productive tasks before you’ve lost all patience; give yourself permission (where appropriate) to create an 80-90% solution rather than insisting on 100% perfection.
The point is, there are solutions. Take your Kolbe A and a Kolbe B Index on your job. Read Kathy Kolbe’s book Powered By Instinct, which gives five rules for trusting your gut. Don’t be satisfied with a two-week vacation followed by months of stress. Strive for a job you love so much you’re excited to return to it after a well-earned break.