Burnout as a Killjoy

The worst thing a job can do to you is kill the joy of doing what you love.

Margaret, a nurse, remembers the day when she lost hope.

She had been literally holding the hand of a patient awaiting a dreaded operation. When Margaret returned to the nursing station, her boss told her rudely and publicly that any nurse who couldn’t turn around a patient for surgery in half the time ought to find another line of work.

Can you imagine? You’re doing the work you truly value. For Margaret it’s attending to the emotional and physical well-being of another person. Maybe it’s the same for you or maybe something quite different comes to mind.

Could there be anything worse than being told—especially being told by a person of consequence—that your work has no value?

For Margaret, the demands of the long shift with needy people dropped on her like a ton of bricks. She felt exhausted. Her capacity to connect with her work or her patients drained out of her. She really wanted to care and to continue caring despite whatever anyone said or thought.

It’s energizing to follow your dream with the support of those around you; it’s exhausting to swim upstream against constant criticism.

The irony of the situation is that Margaret’s boss actually shares her professional values for professional care. But being the boss means that management values take precedence.

The problem of burnout is not simply an individual crisis. The exhaustion and hopelessness of burnout is a quality of the work environment. Everyone has a taste of the experience; some feel it more keenly. It undermines the resilience of each individual and the resilience of the workplace. As the supportive atmosphere erodes, people lose their sense of psychological safety.

When you find yourself in a burnout setting, rising above it is a tall order. Fighting an ongoing battle with the values of your workplace can wear you down.

You’ve have to either change the environment or leave. Otherwise, the environment will change you. You may not want to let go of those values

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