Managers: Do you feel a lack of personal accomplishment lately? Do you believe that you give more than you get at work? Regardless of your best efforts to improve matters, is the organization bent on continuing along the same path? Do you lack time (or energy) to pursue or tend to personal relationships? Are you turning down offers of support, feeling you must carry on alone to most easily right the many situations you are facing?
If you answered yes to two or more questions above, you might be suffering from a stress syndrome known as “leadership fatigue” – a serious concern in the workplace today. There are three types of burnout: overload, which leads to venting and anger; boredom, which leads to disengagement; and worn-out burnout — the type most often associated with leadership fatigue – which leads more often to feelings of depression and hopelessness.
Dr. Stephen Sauter, past chair of the National Occupational Research Agenda Organization, notes that workers who report they are stressed incur health care costs that are 46 percent higher than other employees. The American Psychological Association concurs; it found the stress of leadership fatigue can manifest significant physical symptoms: fatigue (51 percent); headache (44 percent); upset stomach (34 percent); muscle tension (30 percent); change in appetite (23 percent); teeth grinding (17 percent); change in sex drive (15 percent); and feeling dizzy (13 percent).
Leadership fatigue leaves behind a residue of worry, frustration and even clinical depression. If untreated, it may aggravate more serious anger, depressive and illness symptoms. Many describe experiencing an erosion of optimism, a growing sense of being unappreciated, a frustration with trying to “herd cats”. As a result, managers become less creative or courageous, more inclined to maintain the status quo, and more myopic about personal and organizational opportunities.
What to do? We think we’ll take a vacation, read that book, take the kids to the zoo, reconnect with friends, and/or enjoy a great bottle of wine, “after” – after the sale goes through, after the re-organization is finished, after the payroll for next month is secured, after the discussion with a poor performer is concluded. Sadly, there is no “after”. Real life is a series of overlapping events, not a consecutive timeline with a convenient pause button between challenges.
RX: “Mindfulness” — acknowledging and embracing the importance of self-renewal
Mindfulness is an awareness of the seriousness of mental fatigue, followed by a thoughtful exploration to (1) identify stress triggers; (2) develop new coping mechanisms; and (3) create a plan to incorporate renewal opportunities into each day. It’s admitting that the creation of an impactful, sustainable career is noble – as noble as the call to lead others to their best careers and to lead a company to realize its greatest potential. On a positive note, knowing the signs and symptoms of leadership fatigue could be a trigger for revitalization and life change consideration.
And a corollary thought: When we don’t incorporate a break from an oppressive situation, we are more likely to stumble on quickie mood elevators – an affair, a drink (or three) after work, or other “quick fixes” that really fix nothing. How we respond to workplace stressors tells us as much about ourselves as about the environment we choose (and it is a choice) to serve.