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Saturday, March 13, 2010

Burnout: First sizzle and then fizzle out

A great career and having achieved everything early in life is a sure sign of success but it may come at a very high price. Burnout is evident, when too much is done at a breakneck pace. Stories abound of players in their teens who shone and had a lot of promise and then fizzled out in their early twenties. Hot shot popstars, sportspersons and movie stars are more prone than most to this phenomenon

Former cricketer, Javagal Srinath agrees, "It (burnout) is a real issue, if you see the demands on players these days, as well as the length of the season, these two factors definitely contribute to burnouts. And burnouts is just not for everyone, it’s for the people who have really achieved and the overly dedicated people.

Managing Director & CEO, Deutsche Bank India, Gunit Chadha told CNBC-TV18, "Even though one would argue that the longevity in the corporate world, of an average life span is much longer than in the cricketing world. But increasingly, I think a combination of peer pressure, of the reward which goes with success, is making a lot of young talent actually burn themselves out by the time they enter the late 30s or early 40s. So I think it is a real phenomenon, which has started to emerge in India."

Burnout - the very term connotes an ending. It may be true in extreme cases but most people mistake a slump for a permanent fizzling out. Even though retiring from centrestage for players may be due to their physical condition, psychological condition or motivatio levels. Ironically, these are the same factors that also characterise people who have burned out. Srinath prefers to call certain temporary down periods as a "slump or staleness."

Both the physical and emotional aspects affect a person's preformance. Srinath explained, "If your mind is really stressed, then obviously it reflects in your body and if your body is really tired then it reflects in you mind. So I think both equally contribute to the staleness or burnouts that we are talking about."

In the corporate scene, there are certain people with extreme perfectionist tendencies who are at a high risk of fading away at a younger age. The employee who spends 70-hours a week in office and does not take any vacations or it may be a person who is really a perfectionist and hugely competitive and is struggling under a lot of peer pressure.

Chadha said, "I think it’s a convergence of the the two. The two prototypes really become one prototype - aggressive, competitive - who wants to put in those extra hours, wants to have excellence plus be a perfectionist."

He added, "One thing is that I lead by example - I take my 3-4 vacations a year! So that’s a good start. But on a more serious note - at Deutsche Bank for instance, we have Friday dress downs, which again inculcates a little amount of relaxation in the office. We recently had a Deutsche Bank cricket tournament where we invited Deutsche Bank teams from Sri Lanka, Pakistan, India and Singapore to come down and spent three days in celebration."

"We do a lot of Deutsche Bank off-sides. So in various respects, we try to make employees have fun, build team work and not let people become the victims of their own success. So I think leadership in an organisation has a lot to play in this as well." However, Srinath reiterated that spotting this tendency to overdo things is half the problem solved and is a great preventive measure.

Chadha opined, "I think most of it is because of the pressure that you put on yourself. As you build longevity in your career, you start judging yourself in your own mirror, in your own soul, within ourselves rather than in the eyes of the beholder. I think when you reach that realization, I think you can cut back the pressure because then you are not doing it for public opinion, you are doing it for yourself."

Corporates are taking the issue of burnouts seriously. But with corporates tightening their belts, "people are moving from 40-50 hours work weeks to 72-80 hours work weeks. The pressure on individuals is growing and burnouts are starting to increase. I think it’s a very clear phenomena in this century," says Chadha. The flipside is that managements are also encouraging the habit of burning the midnight oil by rewarding such hardworking employees with bonuses and thus perpetuating the vicious circle.

Chadha explained, "Very often what happens is when employees burn out, people make wrong judgments and rather than remodify the situation, the employee probably leaves the company or takes VRS or does something to that effect and that’s what the competitive pressure of life makes you do."

"But I think as employers start respecting talent more and creating preventive conditions in organisations that are more amenable to employees ie. creates balance between work and family, I think the problem will correct itself. Companies' responses would get more preventive driven, but at the the same time I think the social stigma, which is associated with burnouts and losing jobs will come down. People will just accept it as reality."

Written eons ago for my former employer www.moneycontrol.com but it's still valid today.

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