“Burn Out” Is A Misnomer

I don’t like the phrase “burned out.”

“Burned out” implies exhausted or tired. Typically people who are worn out need a breather. When someone has been working too hard for too long, they need a break.

OK, I get that. And, that’s the pattern people see. Folks work hard for a while and then they need a break. They recharge and they jump back into the fray. That paradigm exists and we all get it. It harkens back to sports. Play for a bit, sit on the bench and run back onto the field.

I don’t love the phrase “burned out” because I think it’s a disservice to managers. The phrase itself is not codified in a way that helps managers identify the symptoms.

New managers are often on the prowl for burn out, waiting for their team to seem tired or exhausted. When they see those clues they’ll know to encourage someone to take a break.

But that’s not how “burn out” manifests. When people are burned out they’re not tired; they’re irritable. Everything bothers them. Stuff that would have gone unnoticed in the past is now nails on a chalkboard. They become negative and they drag morale down.

It’s not uncommon, as a result, for a manager to be perplexed by an attitude shift from a teammate. Their former cheerleader has transformed into Oscar the Grouch.

Regardless of the name, managers need to know that when teammates become abnormally bitter they need a vacation. Burn out is not physical, it’s psychological. A change of scenery and some fresh perspective can revitalize their attitude.