Burning up or burning out...

How renewable is your energy?

28 October 2009, by Tracey Swanepoel

In 2008 21 CEOs of South African-listed companies resigned.

No doubt that's a record. Ask them if they miss "it" at all and the message is consistent and clear, they have never been happier, they are new converts to life as an ordinary human being. An alien from a visiting planet might think that life begins when you've resigned as a CEO (of course with financial security not an issue, they can comfortably enjoy their newfound freedom). Many of those left behind seem to be "clockwatching" until they too can be free.

The view from the top

Free from what exactly? Isn't the top job the dream destination of the corporate world? This quote from an anonymous executive (interviewed by Harvard Business Review) puts a different perspective on it, "in my role I'm the guy who catches it all. I can't seem to get people to stand still and listen, and I can't continue to take all the hostility. I don't know how much longer I can last in this job". Not quite the view from the top that some of us have in mind!

The stress and burnout implicit in the above are not just at the top. Hard times (also known as the global recession) mean that everywhere, everyone has to do more with less. Often this means one (no doubt super competent) individual holding down what used to be 5 people's jobs. How? By doing the usual stuff-longer hours, more pressure, less time for family.

We convince ourselves that it's temporary, that we can cope, for now. We dismiss the physical exhaustion, even illness, caused by the adrenaline rollercoaster. Mentally, we have difficulty focusing and thinking clearly. Emotionally, we are angry, irritable, negative, cynical, frustrated and even explosive. Spiritually, we feel purposeless, alienated and unfulfilled. Conditions which no incentive, car or overseas trip can make better.

A few weeks ago I wrote a column about the myth of multitasking and how we need to manage our time as strategically as we manage our money, meaning that by investing time we create value in the areas of life (family, relationships) that are really important to us. To do that, we need to know not only how to manage our time, but even more importantly how to manage our energy. Macro-environmentally, the survival of our planet depends on renewable energy sources. In the same way, for our workplaces to survive and prosper we need to be able to cultivate personal renewable energy. Energy that comes from organisational pressure and urgency is not sustainable. It's the human version of fossil fuels (which are heated under enormous pressure in the earth's crust). It's this energy that is literally burning us out, polluting the workplace environment to the extent that we simply cannot wait to escape.

Do you have a personal energy crisis?

Do you proudly boast about getting by on four to five hours sleep or less a night? Skip meals? Eat at your desk, if you eat at all? Eschew gym or physical exercise as a luxury for those who have the time? Do you love the distraction provided by each new e-mail (as it gives you a new crisis to react to, instead of focusing on longer term issues like strategy, reflection or creative problem solving)?

Do you practice "last minute.com" on important documents? Are you always connected even when on holiday?

Are you often irritable, volatile or stressed at work? Do you feel guilty about not spending enough time with your family? Even when you are with them are you busy on the Blackberry, checking e-mails or averting the latest crisis? Do you find yourself never getting time to do what you are really good at and enjoy the most?

Even a couple of "yes's" indicate an energy crisis! Fortunately, unlike renewable energy for the planet, personal renewable energy is up to us. We can make more if we decide to (and we don't even have to pay the 45% Eskom premium!). It sounds deceptively simple but focusing on personal energy has been proved to increase productivity and decrease burnout.

Get the basics right

It's almost too obvious to mention, but without enough food, sleep or exercise, most of us are cranky , if not completely useless. Hardly in a state to inspire the world around us!

Be nice. It's good for you!

Savouring our accomplishments and expressing appreciation to others are actually good for us. Both help us feel positive about life, others and ourselves, which is the best defence against emotional stress and burnout.

Do the right stuff

Psychologists talk about over doing and under being, getting so caught in a rut of have-tos that we never do the want- tos. We all get a kick out of doing what we love doing. So whatever you do "entrepreneur it". Find a way to own your situation, making sure you integrate your values, strengths and passions into your work.

Read published article on MoneyWeb site