Unfortunately on of the biggest hurdles in the industry we work in and around is that dreaded “b-word.” It creeps in slowly and runs up fast, leaving many scrambling to deal with its vicious aftermath. And although the causes can very greatly, a number of themes and trends can be picked out of the burning wreckage and brushed off to glean a bit of insight. I’ll do my best to illuminate a few…

Burn-out can come from a sense of futility in daily actions, when a staff does the same thing day after day with no measurable progress or accomplishment. This is probably the most common source, since the feeling can come from either side (from superiors or from those served), and one that tends to slowly build up until it becomes overbearing.

Another form of burn-out is one that results from a disconnect between the DSP and the situation, whether that means the DSP does not feel connected to the individual they serve or to the company that is employing them. This variant of burn-out can be the most contagious as a collective sense of disconnect can spread throughout the ranks and lead to far greater troubles than just one case of feeling ineffective. Sweeping policy changes and unnecessary arrogance from management can magnify this problem exponentially.

An third form of burn-out is almost unavoidable and quite possibly the hardest to fix is one of feeling not valued for one’s contributions. This could (and most often does) mean financial compensation, which is hard to change on a fixed budget, but this could also indicate a lack of recognition or GENUINE appreciation (for some reason, disingenuous appreciation only perpetuates the state of affairs). Feeling like your hard work is constantly overlooked makes the “feel good” gap that covers the wage disparity disappear quickly.

“Now wait,” you say. “Ben, you’re telling me all of this but providing no solutions to it.” Well, you’d be right. It’s not very easy to change the causes of burn-out if they’re engrained into a corporate culture or firmly affixed into an individual’s situation. That being said, taking a moment of your time to encourage someone who you see is struggling (or taking the time to look around and see if anyone is struggling) should be something anyone can do. A single word of encouragement can help someone get through a hard day or week and if multiple people are making that effort, it can cascade into a wave of positive reinforcement.

Transparency and communication aren’t just buzzwords, if a company has to change something in this economy that has been in place for years, sitting everyone down and saying “this is X and we have to do Y with it, so Z won’t be happening,” goes much farther than “we’re changing it, so deal.” Furthermore, timely communication is a super plus! No one likes to be told something at the last minute when the other person has known about it for months. It is much easier to put your faith and trust in something that has included you in the inner workings than a great monolith that barks out commands.

As for the feelings of futility, mix it up a bit! Not every person is a perfect match for every situation. Some may require more patience, others more creativity; some situations just simply need some time off to cool and come back at a different angle. Shake it up!

The hardest thing about burn-out is to remember that it can affect everyone, from the top to bottom (and even the individuals being served!) and if left unchecked it will fester like a gangrenous wound, spreading from one to the next. Your greatest mistake would be to ignore it!

Hopefully you found something encouraging or enlightening and in great Red Green tradition “Keep your stick on the ice,” and “remember, I’m pulling for you. We’re all in this together.”