The Burnout Challenge: A book review by Bob Morris

The Burnout Challenge: Managing People’s Relationships with Their Jobs
Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leitner
Harvard Unversity Press (November 2022)

The power and impact of a first-person PLURAL mindset

For more than 30 years, I worked with the senior-level executives of companies annually ranked among those most highly admired and best to work for. However different these organizations may be in most respects, all of them had — and continue to have — a healthy workplace, one within which their people think and behave in terms of first-person PLURAL pronouns. That is the “secret sauce” for accelerating personal growth and professional development, for creating and retaining what Jackie Huba and Ben McConnell characterize as “customer evangelists,” for becoming and then remaining more profitable than any of their competitors in the given industry segment. It is also imperative for everyone to be in proper alignment with the work they do — and WHY they do it — as well as with their associates.

Note: During exit interviews of highly valued employees who have “fired” one company (more often than not, they fired their supervisor) in order to work for another company, they revealed that feeling appreciated was more important than compensation and career advancement. Loyalty to their employer had become burned out.

I mention all this by way of setting the proverbial table for the invaluable material that Christina Maslach and Michael Leitner provide in their brilliant contribution to knowledge leadership in burnout research.

They suggest that there are six areas of job-person match or mismatch and they are not independent of each other. In fact, they can overlap in multiple ways. There are many ways in which mismatches can combine. “The reciprocal interactions among co-workers over time mean that every individual can be affected by mismatches and also contributes to mismatches for others.”

Think in terms of the principle of compounding: both civility and incivility are sui generis, as are empathy and indifference, positive and negative, constructive and destructive, etc. Maslach and Leitner thoroughly explain the WHAT and WHY of healthy and unhealthy workplace cultures. Of even greater value is their knowledge, wisdom, and experience that guide and inform their explanation of HOW to avoid or diminish (if not eliminate) burnout at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise.

These are among the other passages of greatest interest and value to me, also listed to suggest the scope of Maslach and Leitner’s coverage:

o Work Overload (Pages 12-16 and 16-18))
o Breakdown of Community (20-22)
o Understanding Mismatches (26-27)
o Blamingbthe Victim (36-39)
o The Medicalization of Burnout (40-47)

o Individual CopingTechniques (47-51)
o Psychological Fit (64-68)
o EssentialSteps Toward Good Matches (71-73)
o Collaborate, Customizer, Commit (80-82)
o Balanceonthe Job (91-95)

o Control (104-107)
o Flexibility (111-114)
o Appreciation (118-119)
o Intrinsic Rewards (124-127)
o Civility (130-133)

o Managing Workplace Civility (133-138)
o Respect and Reciprocity (145-147)
o Equality and Equity (148-155)
o Identify the Area of a Problem Mismatch (176-180)
o Use Design Guidelines (188-191)

o Build in Progress Checkpoints (191-195)
o URGENT: Why Act Now? (198-200)
o An Approach to Addressing CommunitynMismatches (204-216)
o Lessons Learned from Making Better Matches (219-220)
o Future Change (225-232)

The challenge is mutli-dimensional: for individuals, to avoid burnout and do all they can to help others to do so. For those with direct reports especially, this book is a “must read” and then re-read. For organizations, whatever their size and nature may be, the challenge is to establish and then sustain a workplace culture within which personal growth and professional development are most likely to thrive. Jim Collins has much of value to say about getting the right people “on the bus” and would be among the first to insist that matching each “passenger” with the most appropriate responsibilities is of equal, if not even greater importance.

To repeat, Christina Maslach and Michael Leitner share their knowledge, wisdom, and experience when explaining HOW to avoid or diminish (if not eliminate) burnout at all levels and in all areas of the given enterprise. They stress the importance of identifying crucial gaps and mismatches while realizing that one positive adjustment is desirable but never enough. Every organization needs a system of continuous improvement, a never-ending process of ensuring that the right people are doing what they do best and enjoy most.

Workers need to see themselves in their jobs. Relations with others must be flexible and resilient. Everyone should model and exemplify civility; earn mutual respect and trust, as well as appreciation; “keep the faith” in themselves and others while taking no one and nothing for granted; be patient but persistent; and meanwhile, be “just cautious enough.”

Final point: However different they may be in most other respects, all of the companies annually ranked among those most highly regarded and best to work, the same companies that are also most profitable, excel at managing their workers’ relationships with their jobs. That is NOT a coincidence.

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