Calibrate Expectations to Prevent Burnout

 

By Rob & Terri Bogue July 31, 2019
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​Part 1: Where Does Burnout Come From?

Part 2: Calibrate Expectations to Prevent Burnout

Part 3: Manage Demands to Maintain Personal Agency

This excerpt is adapted from Extinguish Burnout (SHRM, 2019) by Rob & Terri Bogue. It is the second in a three-part series on the effect of burnout at work.

In the light of cynicism and the idea that nothing you can do will make things different, it's easy to see why the lack of perceived personal effectiveness may be the start of burnout. Before it has reached its full development, where nothing is possible any longer, burnout starts as the feeling of not doing enough.

At the most basic level, the engine that drives burnout is the feeling and belief that you're not making progress toward your goal—even when you don't know what the goal really is. It's a simple statement, but unpacking it isn't easy. Even if we call it "perceived personal efficacy," in these three words there is a challenge.

Our perceptions are notoriously fickle things. There are a host of psychological biases that prevent us from seeing the world as it is. Biases like "what you see is all there is" may be a holdover from our pre-toddler days, but they haunt us still. Our eyes may capture images of the world around us, but our brains construct the world around us from incomplete information provided by our limited view and often make up the answers when the answers aren't forthcoming. As a result, we must know that our perceptions are not reality. The way we perceive the world is necessarily incomplete. This can be due, in part, to the fact that our perceptions view only one side of a world composed of multiple aspects. To address perception, we are led down the road of psychology, neurology, and, occasionally, ancient wisdom.

Personal is our second word, and it should be easy. After all, we've lived with ourselves our entire lives. No one should know more about us than ourselves. In one sense, this is absolutely true. We are the authority on our experience. However, in another sense, there is so much about us that we don't know and don't realize. When we measure ourselves, what yardstick do we use? How do we account for our capacity to work with others to get things done? These questions and others make it hard to pinpoint where our personal capacity should end and another's begin.

Efficacy is a loaded word. In it is the idea that something is effective. Effective for what and at what scale? A spoon is effective at moving dirt when you're planting a tiny cactus in a terrarium. A spoon is completely ineffective when trying to build a road. Efficacy relies on context. In the case of humans, we establish what we want to get accomplished and work toward those goals.

In the word efficacy, we must consider how reasonable our expectations of effectiveness are and whether we have defined the right measurements to indicate progress.

Rob and Terri Bogue write, speak, and consult on improving workplaces, managing organizational change, and developing talent.

Visit the SHRMStore to order a copy of Extinguish Burnout.

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