Star Employees and Their Battle with Burnout

*This is a follow-up article to: Burnout is Not a Bad Word.


Why does it seem like the good ones are always the first to go?

“All the people who burned out were the star employees” said Dr. Puleo in her TED Talk.

Granted this was not a completely general statement because she was referring to an intricate study heavily involving the use of the Burnout During Organizational Change Model, but this does pose a curious question: Are “star employees” more likely to burnout?

According to the World Health Organization and as specified in the International Classification of Diseases 11th Revision, “Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. ”

Burnout is when a person “keeps on going and going and going, and there’s no reprieve.” It dives in and destroys the physical, mental, and emotional health of a person. The Public Library of Science (PLOS) journal provides a simpler definition. They define professionals to feel: “‘overload’, ‘lack of development’ and ‘neglect’, belonging to the ‘frenetic’, ‘under-challenged’ and ‘worn-out’” when experiencing burnout.

Before we dive in to this rabbit hole, let’s clear something up: What is a star employee? As each industry, each company, and each department has its own KPI’s and targets, it would be fair to say that a “star employee” is someone who meets those. Simply put, it’s the person who goes the extra mile.

Where does this idea that it’s the star employee who is likely to experience burnout come from? Aside from Dr. Puleo’s Talk, Forbes and Very Well Mind churned out the types of people that are more susceptible to suffer burnout and the traits that increase the risk, and they all arguably describe a “star employee”.

The “I’ll Work Until I Drop” Type

Forbes defines workaholics to be more prone to burnout. This is because they hold their performance with an extremely high regard that comes with a price. Workaholics are more likely to be the type to forego work-life balance in favor of “doing a great job.” 

In Very Week Mind’s article, they indicate “lack of belief in what you do” as a trait that increases the risk of burnout. Practicality versus idealism is one of the main dilemmas professionals face, and because less than a handful of people are lucky to work in an industry or company that share their principles or values, burnout is more likely to happen when a workaholic is placed in this scenario.

Battle Plan:

Being a workaholic can take a heavy toll on your health. This includes the physical, mental, and emotional. According to Forbes, an option for you is to learn how to differentiate being “busy” from being “productive.” Placing a line between them can clarify the accomplishments you’ve done, and what are really just “busy work.” This in turn may help you to focus on what is important. Both Forbes and Help Guide state the importance of having a strong support system. Having people who you can open up to can help alleviate the pressure, and provide some form of relief from the stress. At the end of a long day, a willing listener can mean the world.

The “Please Like Me” Type

It’s fair to say that “being liked” is something that is very nearly a universal desire. In the workplace, it may come at the cost of being overworked, not receiving enough support, etc. People who fall under this category also have a high risk of experiencing burnout.

In connection to this, another trait indicated in Very Week Mind that will place you at an even higher risk is “pessimism.” If you’re already a people-pleaser, and you view the world with darker lenses, see yourself as a smaller person, and generally have two opposing forces pulling at you from either end, experiencing burnout is something that you should watch out for.

Battle Plan: 

People-Pleasers thrive in being liked. As such, their focus and energy are directed towards other people, their “audience.” Forbes turns it around with this advice: focus on yourself. In the corporate setting, set your eyes on the prize that you want for yourself, for your satisfaction, not for the “applause.”

“Assertive” is a controversial word in the workplace as it can easily be interchanged with the dreaded millennial adjective of “entitled.” Being able to speak up and ask for help when you need it is a must though, because as difficult as it is, especially to people-pleasers, you have a responsibility to take care of yourself.

The “Everything NEEDS to be Perfect” Type

In Forbes “the perfectionist” is a type of person that is mentioned to be prone to be burnout, while in Very Week Mind “perfectionist tendencies” also increases your risk of experiencing this syndrome. Simply put, whether it’s your personality or just a tendency, it would seem like perfectionists are one of the people who are first in line when it comes to burnout. In both articles, setting high expectations for yourself is determined as admirable, but they also caution against crippling stress, and being too critical of the self.

Battle Plan: 

Forbes offers a very simple yet insightful notion, “The world isn’t perfect, so don’t expect perfection.” It’s a very elementary thought, but it’s something perfectionists would do well to engrave into their minds. Being in the corporate world is pressure enough, let’s not add anymore by setting something that is unrealistic for ourselves. Instead of focusing on what you did wrong or imperfectly, why not focus on your achievements? Don’t minimize your accomplishments by brushing them under the rug. 

To address the question: are star employees are more likely to burnout? The answer would seem like an unfortunate “yes.”

As with all things negative, prevention is better than cure. Help Guide indicates that we must learn to recognize the signs, strive to manage the stress and build up our resilience. 

Sources: experie

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