The obvious problem in the workplace

This post was written by Megan on April 8, 2011
Posted Under: burnout and society,burnout and the workplace


Workplace burnout and piano cartoon

In the business section of a newspaper recently was the headline: "Employee overload is bad for business".

The sub-head (just in case you didn't understand the headline): "Overworked staff can strip a company of its competitive edge".

Derek Parker wrote the article in the Weekend Australian (19-20 March 2011, Weekend Professional, Page 1). Not sure if Derek wrote the headline, but I appreciate that to reach the ears of panic-stricken, slave-driving CEO's and middle managers you need to talk in terms they understand. Like 'stripping your competitive edge' and the kindergarten version: 'bad for business'.

Derek comes into his own in the first paragraph:

"Every business wants its employees to put in a good day's work, but unthinking attempts to reach new levels of productivity can easily produce the opposite effect: poor results, disruption in the workplace, rising levels of sick leave and high staff turnover. In a word: burnout."

Boom boom.

Apparently the stress-related leave in 2008 cost Australia $14.81 billion (as reported by Medibank Private) –  a figure likely to have increased since, considering the GFC and recent natural disasters.

In the Weekend Australian article Tracy Noon, chief human resources officer of recruitment specialist Hudson Australia/New Zealand, says:

"Burnout happens when people feel overwhelmed by the amount of work they are given to do, or by increases in their responsibilities….Most people can deal with peaks in their workload, but problems start when people can't see an end to it."   

Nicely put, Trace.

I've spent a good slab of my life feeling unsatisfied with the workplace. No siesta rooms, fear-riddled managers, in-trays that behave like thugs and crap communication all round.

I could have handled things differently. Campaigned for a OH&S 'sick bay' (with a bed and lots of pillows). More importantly, I could have figured out that I was on the road to burnout. Unfortunately, I wasn't that bright. I didn't see it coming. I just went to my place of employment with a rock in my stomach and worked. And worked. And worked. Thinking all along that was the deal. Thinking I just had to suck it up. Thinking that there was no choice.

In hindsight, I can't help but feel that a situation like this actually boils down to two (healthy) choices: 

  1. Communicate what's going on calmly and articulately (which may involve quoting from Derek's article to anyone who will listen) and offer constructive solutions to your colleagues and manager(s)
  2. Leave your job

I became so sick I was found dribbling under my desk. Choice didn't really factor in here. It was time to leave.

Eventually, when I could manage it, I started my own writing business. My own siesta room was created and effective 'fear management' was put in place. I even learnt to communicate effectively to my cat on a regular basis.

There are times when my credit card debt belongs on The Biggest Loser. There are times when I can't get past foggy brain to properly attend to the urgent calls of my clients. Life can be less than perfect.


But it is for everyone else as well.

Have you noticed? No one else has it all together either. In fact, we're living in a society where the wheels are falling off on a regular basis – despite the "We're soooo reliable" marketing material.


Work, and life in general, is becoming a slapstick routine. 

Juggling tasks as slippery as fish, trying to look dignified after skidding on yet another banana peel has a Charlie Chaplin feel to it. Maybe we need to see our 'to do' list as a series of running gags. 

In short, maybe it's time to start laughing at our crazy routines. Because they are. Take a moment, grab some popcorn and watch our antics for what they really are.

Here's your ticket. Enjoy the show.


This post was written by Megan Hills. Megan is a writer and cartoonist who looks pretty good in a bowler hat and moustache.  Find out more about Megan

Reader Comments

Nice post Megan. I totally agree. When do we become productive enough that it satisfies our boss, society, ourselves. Our body will tell us if we don't make the call.
The more we do the higher the benchmark becomes and then 16 hours a day becomes the expectation. We have to learn to draw the line and this can vary in our lives as to what the limit becomes. Awareness is key and 16 hour days does not promote awareness.

Written By Jeff on April 8th, 2011 @ 6:27 pm

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