Are you feeling frustrated with your job? Do you dread going into work? You might be standing on the slippery slope of burnout, or what leadership expert, Bob Dunham, refers to as the “Six Levels of Hell.” Here are some burnout clues you might look for and some thoughts on how to get out of hell :
Level One – Heroic: Are you responding to emails at 2am? You may be thinking, “I’m really on top of things…” but this type of behavior is not sustainable and eventually leads to burnout. Our mobile work lives make it easy to go above and beyond, but don’t forget to take care of your other needs, like eating and sleeping. Nobody wants a dead hero.
Level Two – Hopeful/Fantasy: Do you find yourself thinking, “A breakthrough will come if I just work harder and faster.” This is one of the most primitive and stupid strategies we humans have invented. This may seem counter-intuitive, but the leadership move is actually to slow down, take into account the whole ecosystem, including your own perspectives, and inquire, “What is it that I did not see that led me to a failed strategy for finding a breakthrough?” A terrific learning opportunity is near!
Level Three – Rude Awakenings: Bigger cracks are showing. Did you miss a key detail? Were you tempted to sweep a mistake under the rug? Are you bracing for the next inevitable breakdown? When things start to crumble, it is time to realize you’ve made some mistakes, and you probably missed some early warning signs that things weren’t working as you hoped they would. The best thing to do is to accept the mistakes you’ve made, prioritize damage control measures, and make reparations where possible. Remember, it is not the mistakes we make, but how we deal with our mistakes that counts.
Level Four – Resentment and Resignation: Are you replaying a chronic complaint that ‘someone else’ is the problem? Be careful: Resentment is rooted in a compelling story about why someone else hurt or wronged us, and it takes our attention off how we may have contributed to the problem.
We experience resignation as a rational explanation about why things cannot change, and that is why it is one of the most dis-empowering moods we can live in.
If unaddressed, resentment and resignation eat away at us from the inside. Once we notice them, we can act on them, but they are not good moods to keep around. The good news is that we are part of the problem, and we can be part of the solution. The bad news is that changing ourselves can often be our most difficult assignment. Get help from trusted advisers who are not afraid to tell you how they see it.
Level Five – Cynicism: Are you listening to everything someone else says from a negative and defensive posture? If so, you may have fallen into cynicism. The difference between this and resentment and resignation is primarily that this is all the time. You start to interpret everything this person says as negative, and you suspect their motives are purely negative. Your opinion has serious implications; because it starts to call into question your own integrity for continuing to do business with this person.
Analyze the facts, and get the perspective of unbiased observers. If you come to the conclusion that this person has negative intentions, then ask yourself, “What actions do I need to take to be aligned with my values?
Level Six – Criminal: Have you intentionally allowed breakdowns to occur or plans to fall through? Again, this becomes a matter of your own integrity. Ask yourself this question, “Will I be proud of myself at the end of the day for what I did?… What other choices do I have that would build my integrity?”
Noticing burnout is like hearing the alarm clock. When the alarm goes off, you don’t just keep doing what you were doing. You really need to take an appropriate action. Burnout can cause us to do things we would not do under better circumstances and can even cause us to compromise our own integrity. Are you experiencing any of these levels of job hell? What about others on your team or in your organization?
Take a snapshot for your organization and the people in it. Which of the six levels of hell might you be living in? Ask others on your team to read this blog, and have a conversation about it. If needed, find a coach who specializes in managing commitment, value, and satisfaction to help you make fundamental shifts to sustain high performance and avoid burnout.