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1/14/2015
09:23 AM
David Wagner
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Burned Out Workers Are Dangerous

Employees suffering from job burnout are more likely to give in to impulse, and that can be hazardous to your company.

It is obvious from the term that job burnout is not a good thing. But a recent study shows that burnout results in more than employees not performing their best. It also means they are far more likely to do something impulsive and dangerous to your company. That means right now, you've got some ticking time bombs walking around your office, and defusing them is shockingly in your control.

The study, from the University of Surrey, was presented last week at the British Psychological Society's Division of Occupational Psychology annual conference in Glasgow. The researchers asked over 250 workers across multiple professional fields a series of ethical questions about business. For instance what, if anything, would they do if they saw a colleague smuggling out secret documents?

Those who exhibited signs of burnout were far more likely to show "spontaneous and irrational decision-making" and were far less likely to make a decision at all. In other words, the burned-out employees were far less likely than others to protect their company, and possibly more likely to hurt it.

[You weren't just imagining it: Read We Literally Can't Live Without Our iPhones.]

Granted, I see some specific problems with the study. For one, how someone responds to a survey and what he or she does in real life might be different. If I'm suffering from job burnout, I might tell a surveyor, "Screw it all. Let the guy take the papers. He might hurt the company the way I'm dreaming of hurting it." On paper, it's easy to feel that way. But if faced with a real-life situation, would I feel the same way? Maybe. Maybe not.

That said, from an earlier study we do know that tired people struggle more with ethics and rules-compliance than people who are well-rested. What this tells me is that you can be tired in the sense of not getting a good night's sleep, or you can be exhausted emotionally. Your ethical decision-making can be affected by long-term as well as short-term fatigue.

So, now we know all those people who need a vacation in your office are a danger. They could witness unethical behavior and not respond. They could act impulsively and become a danger to your company. Or they could fail to decide at all and miss key business or ethical opportunities. What to do about it?

You can't just give everyone who is moping around a vacation. Everyone will mope.

Here's the same old thing we've been telling managers for years. Work-life balance matters. If you are overworking your employees, you are not merely making them miserable. You are setting up the company to be the victim of a horrible mistake or intentional attack. How much evidence do you need before you figure this out?

Switch people around in their jobs more. Help them work reasonable hours. Pay attention to the emotional state of your team and work to build an atmosphere of appreciation.

If you don't, someone is going to do something crazy. The evidence is overwhelming. When are managers going to start doing something about it?

What do you think? Is preventing employee burnout part of your job? Can tired employees pose a serious danger? Comment below.

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David has been writing on business and technology for over 10 years and was most recently Managing Editor at Enterpriseefficiency.com. Before that he was an Assistant Editor at MIT Sloan Management Review, where he covered a wide range of business topics including IT, ... View Full Bio
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Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
1/25/2015 | 8:49:42 PM
Re: work life balance
@yalanand, many workplaces are like the military (or perhaps the old US military), where admitting mental or psychological stress is a sign of inferiority and weakness. If you can't cut it in the work world, putting in the hours and sacrificing your family life like everybody else, then maybe they'll let you stick around and pigeon hole you into a middling position. But do not expect to progress with your career.
yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
1/24/2015 | 10:13:31 PM
Re: work life balance
@kstaron: Of course there should be a work life balance but that may not be understood well by the governing body. What they might think of as fun may end up being stressful for you. So every employee under stress should sit with a psychiatrist (or maybe the office is visited by a psychiatrist to evaluate our mental conditions, also called Surprise Psych Day in our firm) and the psychiatrist forwards the mental conditions and the employee preferences to the management for them to better schedule "fun" time for reducing stress.
yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
1/24/2015 | 10:09:39 PM
Re: Burned Out Workers Are Dangerous
@Technocrati: Unpaid time is just common in a technical firm. Even my one. Paychecks aren't spot on with timings but when they come (and they do come unless we did something terribly wrong and we become benched with the basic salary) they bring happiness with them. If you aren't getting your paychecks then let them know and wait.
yalanand
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yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
1/24/2015 | 10:06:58 PM
Re: work life balance
@SunitaT0: Most employees don't have that luxury you do, maybe you are high up in position that is why you are entitled to all these events as you call them that help you to relax yourselves.  It is true however, that technical jobs are way more hectic than other jobs and it requires the candidate to handle pressure. If during interviews a study could be done on which candidate can handle pressure (called the pressure test) then management wouldn't have to deal with employees leaving the firm due to too much pressure that too during an on going project.
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
1/23/2015 | 1:45:45 PM
Re: work life balance
"It's a fact that being tired will lower your reasoning skills. The chronic tiredness of working long hours (optimal hours should ring in at about 6-8 hours a day for mental work) means that some of those hours are not only not as productive but are harming the work life balance"

@kstaron: Apt reasoning, but I would like to point out that technical jobs are always considered hectic, it wears out both mentally and physically. So unless the governing body (in this case the mangement) wants the employees to have a decent work-life balance, the employee can't have it. In my company the management sends us to 2-3 days break after every project we finish. We can choose to sit and relax in our homes or accept vouchers from the company and go to amusement parks and other gaming parlours with family and friends.
SunitaT0
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SunitaT0,
User Rank: Ninja
1/23/2015 | 1:26:45 PM
Re: work life balance
"kstaron, I think work-life balance comes from knowing what you're getting into. Being FULLY conscious of consequences of a decision. "

@broadway0474: That is not always possible. You can always get bottled up in office politics and you may know nothing about it. The blow comes when you boss calls you to his cabin and holds you responsible for things you didn't do. This calls for better floor management. Too bad none of the workplaces I have worked in have this. I've heard Cisco and Google have this kind of a floor managing workplace. 
Broadway0474
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Broadway0474,
User Rank: Ninja
1/17/2015 | 11:27:37 PM
Re: work life balance
kstaron, I think work-life balance comes from knowing what you're getting into. Being FULLY conscious of consequences of a decision. You want the big salary and bonus of becoming middle management? Of joining that big law firm? Of becoming partner? Then understand that you're expected to work ridiculous hours, travel long periods of time, answer emails at all hours. There are plenty of jobs that that's not the case. They might not pay as well though.
kstaron
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kstaron,
User Rank: Ninja
1/16/2015 | 5:21:07 PM
work life balance
It's a fact that being tired will lower your reasoning skills. The chronic tiredness of working long hours (optimal hours should ring in at about 6-8 hours a day for mental work) means that some of those hours are not only not as productive but are harming the work life balance. While employees are responsible for helping the company understand if they are overworked or overwhelmed, it's also the company's responsibility to foster a work environment that helps the work life balance. After all happier employees are more productive. I've always thought that flexibility (so employees could work an alternative schedule or telecommute) helped promote life balance and would like to see more companies offering it. What would you like to see companies do to promote the work life balance?
Technocrati
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Technocrati,
User Rank: Ninja
1/16/2015 | 12:47:48 PM
Re: Burned Out Workers Are Dangerous

@David    Agreed.   I would be too ! : )   But I am just talking about basic management principles, no need for the advanced stuff until you have mastered the basics !  : ) 

David Wagner
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David Wagner,
User Rank: Strategist
1/16/2015 | 12:41:32 PM
Re: Burned Out Workers Are Dangerous
@technocrati- I guess the quickest way to get burned out is to have no idea what you are doing. If you made me a neurosurgeon, I'd be exhausted, too. :)


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