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Harvard Business Review Says This is Why the Best Employees Burn Out

Do you ever feel like your work demands a lot of you? Like, a LOT, a lot?

The good news is it probably means you’re one the most valuable and knowledgeable employees at your company.

The bad news? You’re also more likely to burn out and quit, according to the latest Harvard Business Review.

Although collaborative work may sound appealing, researchers argue that its increased implementation in the workplace is actually disheartening many organizations and their employees.

The paper calls the situation a “success syndrome” whereby the most informed and helpful colleagues are bombarded by requests from co-workers so much that they overwork themselves until they eventually quit.

“Collaborative Overload” discusses the issues associated with workers spending around 80 per cent of their time in meetings, on the phone, and responding to emails.

With little time left to perform critical duties because they’re “buried under an avalanche of requests for input or advice, access to resources, or attendance at a meeting,” pretty soon employees are taking work home and risking burnout or turnover.

Burnout, Employee, Harvard, Notable, Review, Business

Leaders are often still mystified as to why productivity drops off from these overloaded employees, who in many cases have been promoted or taken on greater responsibility in their role.

Stacked with new colleagues and more skills to learn, coupled with their old co-workers who continue to lean on them for support, valuable team players are getting totally snowed under.

“Soon helpful employees become institutional bottlenecks: Work doesn’t progress until they’ve weighed in. Worse, they are so overtaxed that they’re no longer personally effective,” reads the paper.

“And more often than not, the volume and diversity of work they do to benefit others goes unnoticed, because the requests are coming from other units, varied offices, or even multiple companies.”

And bad luck, ladies – women are more at risk of bearing the brunt of “collaborative” work. Despite a recent Harvard Business Review suggesting that women are leaving companies in their 30s to seek better pay, opportunities or work/life balance, it may just be that they’re tired of picking up the slack.

“They’re stereotyped as communal and caring, so they’re expected to help others with heavy workloads, provide mentoring and training to more-junior colleagues, recruit new hires, and attend optional meetings. As a result, the evidence shows, women experience greater emotional exhaustion than men,” says the report.

Burnout, Employee, Harvard, Notable, Review, Business

So what can businesses do to avoid this?

Well, they should start by trying to identify the supply and demand. Internal systems can illuminate the volume of work certain employees are facing. Then it’s time to redistribute, encourage behavioural change on how to filter and prioritise requests, and, if necessary, orchestrate a structural change.

Remember: being busy shouldn’t be a badge of honour. If you’re doing too much, it’s time to speak up and let your boss know. They’d rather you seek support than lose you in the long run.


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