Leadership, Strategy

Burnout, exhaustion of physical or emotional strength or motivation, is a cumulative effect of chronic work stress. No one plans to burn out, but as demands on us exceed our capacity, this phenomenon eventually catches up to us. Research shows that not only are all workers susceptible to burnout but also that burnout is an epidemic specifically among entrepreneurs and executives. Add navigating an unprecedented pandemic

According to a May 2020 survey by the American Psychological Association, 7 in 10 employed adults (70%) say work is a significant source of stress in their lives, which is higher than reported in 2019 (64%). 

The enemy would love for us to feel shame, failure, denial, or loneliness in this struggle. The author of Hebrews, however, relates our life and work to running a race and encourages us not to grow weary (Heb. 12:1-3). Although his words inspire us to run hard and cover an impressive distance, we can’t ignore our need to rest just because we view our work as worship, purposeful, and rewarding.

Unless we take proper care along the way, the rewards of our work will be short-lived as our health, relationships, and/or businesses suffer. Burnout is a proven predictor of occupational consequences such as job dissatisfaction, absenteeism, poor decision-making, and turnover. Burnout also causes physical and psychological damage, including insomnia, depression, and cardiovascular disease. We can’t effectively lead in the roles God has called us to if we are operating from burnout. The same goes for our key leadership and management teams. 

We must learn to recognize when we are on a destructive path and identify the root causes of our exhaustion. Then we can pump the brakes and apply remedies to put us back on the path toward the “green pastures” and “still waters” that our Father graciously offers (Ps. 23).

Consider the Risks

Successful leaders in business are typically pre-wired with personality traits like optimism, confidence, drive, risk propensity, creativity, and ingenuity. Leveraging these traits is rewarding to pioneer a new development, meet a need in the market, shepherd a team, and achieve a vision. 

Despite these qualities and rewards, research suggests the stereotypical “leadership lifestyle” causes health problems few people talk about. We live in a culture that has trained us to believe fatigue in business is normal and even admirable, like a badge of honor that indicates we are doing something worthwhile. But the pace at which many passionate professionals run is unsustainable and detrimental. A 2015 study revealed a high correlation between several mental health conditions and burnout.

Likelihood of entrepreneurs vs. the general population to experience the following:

  • Depression 2x
  • Addiction 3x
  • ADHD 5x
  • Bipolar Disorder 10x

Beyond the consequences to the business, one of the greatest risks of burnout is a loss of perspective. By ignoring the warning signs—such as by justifying them as the nature of the job or as temporary necessary evils—we risk missing out on the freedom and rest God has for us. 

This could impact our families, faith, and testimonies by leading to poor choices, moral failure, or a return to old coping behaviors if there’s a history of addiction (like alcohol or pornography). 

The Three Dimensions of Burnout

  1. emotional exhaustion, characterized by emotional depletion, loss of energy, and the inability to think straight
  2. cynicism, detachment from work and family, and emotional hardening
  3. a feeling of personal and/or professional inadequacy as well as reduced productivity and coping skills

Proceed With Caution

More extreme attitude shifts, such as thoughts of selling the business and doing “something else” to unshackle from daily constraints and demands, are clear indicators of burnout, especially when the “something else” isn’t yet defined. These feelings shouldn’t be misinterpreted as indicators we are in the wrong business. Instead, we could be in the exact place God has called us to but lacking the necessary disciplines or approach.

Get to the Root

Life and business carry countless threats of exhaustion, particularly for leaders who are driven by their passion to build great businesses for a greater purpose. Work ceases to be worship, however, when it leaves us chronically depleted, becomes an idol, or interferes with our ability to love and serve. Learning we are at high risk of burnout should alarm us—and send us searching for the root. Are you staying at work 70 hours a week because you’re running to or running from something? Are you delegating more lately to optimize, or to minimize? Are you sleeping in to recharge, or to hide? Neither running nor hiding can alleviate fears of failure, missing out, losing reputation, God’s provision drying up, or distressed relationships.

Early detection of burnout symptoms in ourselves and others is critical. 

Common Sources of Exhaustion:

  • Overwhelming weight of personal life 
  • Not appropriately delegating responsibilities to team members
  • Lack of intentional rest and retreat
  • Operating out of anxiety instead of trust in God
  • Fear of failure
  • Clinical depression, chemical imbalance
  • Overexertion for too long
  • Unrepentant sinful behavior
  • Neglecting spiritual disciplines
  • Believing we should be willing to be exhausted in service to God 
  • Resisting help from others
  • Performing beyond who God created us to be or what He has called us to
  • Lacking boundaries in our availability to others
  • Carrying the burden of unhealed wounds (sadness, unresolved tension, toxicity in relationships)
  • Experiencing information overload
  • Exerting effort to make things happen in our time and way instead of God’s

Preventing Decay

We wound ourselves and others when we work unto exhaustion, neglect sleep, or allow anxiety to take hold. This is true regardless of whether our exhaustion is self-imposed, foisted on us by industry norms, or ingrained in us from our youth. So, how can we protect ourselves and others from burnout? We must vigilantly guard our schedules, resist self-medicating, and recognize dangerous behavior in both ourselves and our team members. 

If we are mired in or feel headed toward burnout, we must remember that we can’t keep doing the same things and expect different results. The table below offers multiple solutions that are both preventive and therapeutic. 

Weekend to Remember – C12 Members Jonathan and Andrea Krueger, Owners of Lionsgate Advisors, recount how they weathered a season of extreme fatigue and avoided failure.

Life happens, and some circumstances are unavoidable, but we can equip ourselves to manage such seasons and prevent these potential consequences. This is an opportunity for us to deliberately pause, assess our condition, and reevaluate our choices. 

Are you burned out? Take the assessment to learn where you’re at and how to recover!

Regardless of where we currently land on the burnout scale, it is our responsibility as leaders to also be cognizant of burnout symptoms in our employees. Our culture should encourage the holistic well-being that God desires for all His people. This is not only loving; it is practical. Our businesses are not even possible if our employees are burned out, unhappy, and unproductive. To encourage a healthy culture, we can offer benefits like devotionals, chaplaincy, a fitness center or gym membership discounts, PTO, and flex schedules.

Reflection:

What would be the repercussions on my business if I were struggling with any of these effects of burnout?

Which of the listed sources most often contribute to my exhaustion?