A Lizard, Monkey, and Human Walk into Your Mind: Which One Kills Your Career?

PART TWO: Protect yourself and the other difference makers working with you. Recognize signs of job burnout and learn how to address it.

by Ryan Banfill, Communications Director

Songwriter Ray Davies sang about the devastating impact stress can have on people.

Nervous tension, man’s invention,
Is the biggest killer that’s around today
Let the tension out or it will build and build inside
And strike you down some day

From: National Health by The Kinks, Songwriter: Ray Davies

Stress can kill a career, if it doesn’t kill the one who’s stressed, first.

It can also hit the firm in its bottom line. The chart below shows the initial investment organizations invest in hiring, onboarding, and training new associates.

cost to value of an employee

Source: Economic Value of an Employee to the Organization over Time (C) Bersin by Deloitte

In A Comparative Analysis of Complex Organizations by sociologist Amitai Etzioni, the author explains how, under the Barnard-Simon Theory of Organizational Equilibrium, an organization ensures its survival by providing incentives – like pay increases, bonuses, tuition reimbursement, and health insurance – for its members to continue to participate and contribute to its survival.

The Society for Human Resource Management predicts that every time a business replaces a salaried employee, it costs 6 to 9 months’ salary on average. Firm leaders effectively levy a self-imposed “attrition tax” on their operation when they create, encourage, or ignore a toxic work environment and its impact on the organization.

This example taken from a post on enrich.org financial wellness blog lays out the impact on the organization’s bottom line:

“… Example: 100 [(10 employee separations) / (50 average employees)] = 20% turnover rate

Research by SHRM suggests that replacement costs can be as high as 50%-60% with overall costs ranging anywhere from 90%-200%.

Example: If an employee makes $60,000 per year then it costs an average of $30,000 – $45,000 just to replace that employee and roughly $54,000 – $120,000 in overall losses to the company. …”

Source: Financial Wellness: Is it worth the work?, Enrich.org, Jan. 15, 2019

Shock the Monkey

It’s been said you can divide a person’s brain into three pieces: The “lizard brain,” “monkey brain,” and “human brain.”

The American Institute of Stress says “lizard” region is at the base of the brain and is made up of the cerebellum and brain stems responsible for involuntary survival functions like breathing. The “human brain” is the most advanced area where logic compels people to think before reacting to a situation.

Then there’s the “monkey brain.” It’s the area that lights up when we multitask. We engage our “monkey brains” when we’re doing too much and get cranky to the point where our friends hand us a Snickers Bar (like in the advertisement) and return us to humanity.

Scientists who shadowed and observed technology and finance employees and found people switch activities an average of three minutes and five seconds. The researchers classified half of the interruptions as being “self-inflicted.”

A Prescription for Job Burnout

Gloria Mark, Professor in the Department of Informatics at the University of California, Irvine concurs rapidly switching topics throughout the day causes stress. That’s especially true if you’re concentrating on one task and a completely different topic interrupts work.

Professor Mark says when an employee knows they will be interrupted, they compensate by working faster, which also creates stress and a feeling of not being able to keep up with the pace. That opens the door to an employee sacrificing their home life to catch up on work.

“There was very high powered lawyer on the east coast who told me that every Sunday morning he wakes up before the rest of his family, clears off the dining room table, lays out all his casework and spends the entire Sunday just catching up on what he wasn’t able to complete during the week,” Professor Mark told the publication Fast Company in 2008.

That year, researchers at the University of California Irvine studied the impact of interruption on the workplace.

“We found about 82 percent of all interrupted work is resumed on the same day,” Professor Mark said. “Here’s the bad news — it takes an average of 23 minutes and 15 seconds to get back to the task.”

The professor’s work shows distraction and multi-tasking increase effort but murder productivity, and create unsustainable levels of stress and frustration.

Why does this matter? The work environment sets the tone.

A chronically chaotic work environment can run a successful firm off the rails —  right after its star players run for the exits. The careers of some of the firm’s most valuable players can become casualties.

In a 2014 TEDx Talk on burnout and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, Dr. Geri Puleo explained her research on the Burnout During Organizational Change Model to the audience.

“What I found really disturbing in my participants is that over 10% of them – once they left the organization to try to do away with the burnout – 10% of them developed cancer. This is serious,” Dr. Puleo told the audience.

Failed Leadership Can Bring Falling Stars

Dr. Puleo stresses, when an employee suffers from “burnout” it’s not an employee problem, it’s the environment. Burnout is a symptom that the workplace is suffering from poor management.

“All the people that burned out were those ‘star’ employees. They were the ones that give me 110%. These were the ones that said, ‘I can do it. Give me more,’” Dr. Puleo told an audience at Seton Hill University explaining how the problem takes root when change happens. “Maybe they didn’t have the resources. Maybe they had a boss who took credit for all their hard work. What do you think happened when they got frustrated? They got angry.”

Dr. Puleo says apathy follows anger in the model. The employee’s prior enthusiasm for the job is replaced by a lack of caring about the job.

“Usually when you hit it, all the way down in the burnout, then something comes up and you say, ‘I’ve got to get out,” said Dr. Puleo. “So, what do you do? First off, withdrawal, removal. Either physically or psychologically. The presenteeism in the workplace. They’re there, but they’re not really there?”

She told the audience, “Almost every one of my participants left not only the employer, they left the whole industry. They couldn’t take it anymore. They wanted out.”

That phase in the model is followed by the employee gaining self-knowledge and acceptance. That leads to a revised psychological contract with the employee.

Dr. Puleo says it takes six months for subordinates and 1 to 2 years for leaders to descend through the phases – from hope, frustration, to anger, and apathy, to burnout. It takes 2 years to recover from burnout.

The result is an increased workload.

And the band played on. The cycle continues.

Could it Be Job-Related PTSD?

Toxic organizations are everywhere. People who are invested in the work can deflect much of the negative energy with a positive attitude.

“If you’re doing something that you love, you can put a lot of time into that. You don’t care,” Dr. Puleo says. “Burned out workers feel like cogs in a wheel. You’re a robot and nobody cares.”

Dr. Puleo asks: What if burnout is a form of PTSD? Dr. Puleo poses a question that could have a profound impact on how we work and live: What if burnout is a form of PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder?

The ADA Amendments Act of 2008 (ADAAA) recognizes PTSD as a physical disability. Employers must provide reasonable accommodations for people with PTSD like additional time, tolerance of behavioral symptoms.

How would the workplace change if employers had to provide accommodations required under ADAAA for people suffering from burnout?

Dr. Puleo says vacations, paid time off, unpaid time off, would be mandatory leading to increased employee creativity, productivity, and innovation.

PTSD _ Burnout

Defeat Burnout

If you find yourself, a friend, or a colleague battling a long, consistent, and inescapable period of stress, it could be burnout. Add persistent physical or emotional fatigue, sleep disturbance, no focus, and periods of out-of-character anger or cynicism, it could be burnout.

Remember, burnout is not their fault. It is not a sign of weakness. It’s a symptom brought on by a destructive environment.

Career coach Ashley Stahl suggests seizing control of the situation with:

  • Rest;
  • Exercise;
  • Humor (remember to laugh);
  • Reconnect with friends/socialize;
  • Preserve your engagement, excitement, and energy about your career by saying “No” to requests once in a while.

Stahl advises, “Just be careful to pay attention to where you’re at emotionally, as burnout can creep up on you. Check in with yourself every once in a while to make sure you’re treating yourself kindly, and not overloading your schedule or your stress levels.”

Learn how to reclaim your time with these tips. And for fun, check out these real resignation notices from people who decided they were just over it:


Part 3 coming next week!
Read Part 1: Carpe Diem! Your Career, Your Firm, and Your Health May Depend on It

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