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Replace Burnout

Dan Lake
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Jul 08, 2019 · 6 mins read
Replace Burnout
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Great high-performers know how and when to step back

At risk of showing my age, who remembers the first time they watched the film “Top Gun”?

If you’ve not seen it yet, stop reading. Watch it now. Come back here when you’re done.

You can thank me later.

For those who have seen Top Gun, it’s a film not so much about aircraft or Navy carriers, so much as it IS a film about pushing boundaries, overcoming obstacles, dealing with our “inner voice” of confidence, and being the very best at what we do.

Simply, the film is an inspiration; to do more, to be more.

I don’t think we live in a world lacking encouragement to perform ‘better, faster, higher.’

But what we DO NEED is encouragement to stop, take a breath and evaluate what is happening around us.


Sports coaches, self-help books, and corporate leaders all push for more from those they work with.

Since the industrial revolution, companies have sought to maximise outputs systematically.

On one extreme, employees are viewed as a Resource; to be used completely and let go in the pursuit of ‘efficiency.’

While officially discouraged by the government, Chinese business leaders and entrepreneurs routinely work and advocate for working “996” — from 9am to 9pm, 6 days a week. It’s a punishing schedule, causing massive increases of stress and anxiety at home, coupled with social pressure to perform.

Japan is (in)famous for its culture of pushing for more and more productivity from workers — leading to high suicide rates and social stigma.


On the other extreme — away from exploitation — employees are viewed as a Human; unique and talented individuals who collectively make up the greatest competitive advantage an organisation holds over its competitors.

In the early 1900’s, Henry Ford encountered this dilemma; whether or not to view employees as a resource of efficiency. Instead of focusing on the efficiency, Ford focused on the people. He doubled the daily minimum wage — focusing on bringing value to people, and therefore, to the company.

Ford doubled profits in two years.

Remember we were talking about Top Gun, and the pursuit of the very best?

Excellent inspirational films like Top Gun don’t push for excellence alone.

There is a pivotal moment, when the pressure begins to crush down, and the weight of high-performance seems too grand, that everyone steps back to blow off steam.

It could be a party. Or a little rebellion. Or a night on the town. Or a vacation away from pressure.

Every inspirational film has this distinct element — The step back.

It’s a moment which creates focus, elevates awareness, and clarifies goals.

Once the step back is over, everyone focuses. People step up more. Teams engage. People dig deep. Tom Cruise grows up to be best.

Whatever the inspirational film, it’s the same cycle. Push — step back — push with more clarity.

In organisations, we often make the mistake of just pushing. And pushing. And pushing. Until something breaks.

Breaking bad

We expect greater and greater performance from employees.

Recently, Harvard Business Review revealed 20% of employees — highly engaged employees — is at risk of burnout. We have forgotten how to step back.

“We too often forget that high challenges tend to come at high cost, and that challenging achievement situations cause not only anxiety and stress even for the most motivated individuals, but also lead to states of exhaustion.” — HBR

Look around you: The research says 1 out of every 5 people you see is at risk of burnout.

Burnout is no joke.

According to the Maslach Burnout Inventory: “burnout [is] a three-dimensional construct that consists of:

  1. exhaustion: the depletion or draining of mental resources;
  2. cynicism: indifference or a distant attitude towards one’s job;
  3. lack of professional efficacy: the tendency to evaluate one’s work performance negatively, resulting in feelings of insufficiency and poor job-related self-esteem.


Is the pursuit of excellence causing an increase of exhaustion, cynicism, or a lack of professional efficacy in your life? What about the lives of those we work with?

Picture your working life like a page in a novel. A good novel has white space on the page. Margins top, bottom, left, and right. Perhaps even white space between paragraphs. It makes a novel easy to read.

Burnout is like printing over the margins, putting words all the way to the edges and deleting paragraph spacing. I tried it on a printed page — it almost makes the novel impossible to read.

Where is the margin in our lives?

Do we have space to breath? To think? To recharge?

As organisational leaders, we are great at tracking high performance. Metrics. Data. KPI’s to meet and exceed.

Sometimes we celebrate exceeding expectations — often as a thinly veiled encouragement aimed at helping low performers step up.

What we often lack is the ability to help employees step back. To refocus. To recognise the signs of burnout.

We collect a lot of performance data.

The key to identifying burnout early — before it affects people — is to begin reviewing the already collected data.

It’s easy to see who is working long hours; we have emails, reports, and KPI targets.

It’s easy to see who is completing project cycles non-stop.

It’s easy to see who engages in sprint, after sprint, after sprint.

So help your best performers slow down. To step back. So they can forge ahead with renewed clarity.

Burnout car

One way to help your team slow down and take a breath is Karma from Sliday. If you don’t already track your teams — Karma — a performance and engagement bot for Slack, MS Teams, and Telegram.

Karma lets you track engagement, provide peer feedback, and integrate time-keeping into work practices. Karma helps you see high-performance, and helps you identify great opportunities to prevent burnout.

Be like Tom Cruise in Top Gun. Step back a little. Blow off some steam. Avoid Burnout.

Come back even stronger.


Schaufeli, W.B., Taris, T.W., & van Rhenan, W. (2008). Workaholism, burnout, and work engagement: Three of a kind or three different kinds of employee well-being? Applied Psychology: An International Review. 57(2). 173–203

Seppälä, E. & Moeller, J. (2018, February 02). 1 in 5 employees is highly engaged and at risk of burnout. Harvard Business Review. Retrieved from

Stahm, H. & Zhao, J. (n.d.). Why the “Henry Ford Approach” to compensation still works today. Retrieved from

Swenson, R. (2004). Margin: Restoring emotional, physical, financial, and time reserves to overloaded lives. NavPress. Kindle Edition.

Dan Lake
Dan Lake
Written by Dan Lake
A Millennial Specialist with 15 years of leadership development with 18-35 yo, leveraging coaching, training, and team facilitation in over 30 countries.