THE BLOG

What Shade of Burnout Are You?

10/02/2013 12:19 pm ET | Updated Jan 23, 2014

My blood boiled when I read this quote by Marissa Mayer: "Avoiding burnout isn't about getting three square meals or eight hours of sleep. It's not even necessarily about getting time at home."

What did she know? I was burnt out and food and sleep saved my life. I work with burnt out people and food and sleep are the foundation to their recovery.

After three years of working with people who are burnt out, advising organizations on how to eliminate employee burnout, and speaking to dozens of entrepreneurs and managers about avoiding burnout, I've come to the conclusion that burnout in fact takes more than food and sleep to overcome. Why? Because burnout is not what we have been taught. Burnout is not a list of symptoms. Burnout is complicated.

The over simplification of burnout has resulted in organizations fostering unchecked burnout and failing to address it. The truth is burnout is not a black or white, you are or you aren't phenomenon. Burn out is -- like Christian Grey from 50 Shades of Grey -- a continuum. When organizations approach burnout as a continuum, only then are they able to create high-energy, high-performance work environments that grow.

When preparing for a presentation before the Society for Human Resource Management this summer, I tripped upon the research of Jesus Montero-Marin. His work shows that burnout is a spectrum and that it is at the core of employee engagement and productivity.

As the U.S. seeks to create more jobs, we need all hands on deck, working their best. After five years of having people do more with less, we need a different approach to burnout that reflects the spectrum Montero-Marin has revealed.

Three Types Of Burnout

Montero-Marin and his colleagues have shown that burnout is more than an employee curled up under the desk and checked out. In fact, there are three categories or types of burnout. While they all have exhaustion and fatigue in common they differ based on engagement, utilization, and response to work circumstances. Understanding these different shades of burnout not only helps you address your own burnout, but helps managers identify and manage burnout in their organization.

Zoned Out And Worn Out

When we think of burnout, we think of the Worn Out employee. The person who is disengaged, has lost interest in work, has no control over their job or life and has given up. The Worn Out employee often suffers from lack of acknowledgment. Worn Out employees can be problem employees. They can be actively disruptive, disturbing the environment with negativity and complaining. These employees would fall in the 19 percent of actively disengaged employees as reported by Gallup.

Employer Tip: What to do with a Worn Out employee?

Change in management style can yield big results for the Worn Out employee. Training managers on how to identify burnout (of all shades) and to address the needs of the Worn Out employee can reclaim a former good performer. Admittedly there will be some employees that are too burnt out, bitter and resentful to revive. Trust has been broken. Motivation is absent. In these cases, separation can benefit the organization and sometimes even the individual. But first explore repairing trust, acknowledge, lack of control and connection to mission.

Employee Tip: What do I do if I'm Worn Out?

Recognize that you are not broken, you simply got off track. Maybe a manager has lost your trust. Maybe you've lost your resilience to constant change. Maybe you're depressed. No matter what, get help. Whether you hire a coach or a therapist (or both), start to take care of yourself from the inside out. Everyone deserves to love their work.

A Wasted Opportunity

The second type of burnt out employee is the Underchallenged. This is the person who is not living up their potential because they aren't challenged. Their burnout stems from the fact that they are bored and thus unmotivated. To a manager they come across as disengaged. But inside, they are craving engagement and to fulfill their purpose. They simply aren't.

Employer Tip: What do you do with a Worn Out employee?

Re-energizing the Worn Out employee (or any employee) requires a conversation and withholding judgment. In this case, your goal is to find out what light this employee's fire. Every person has talents and skills they love to use. When you match their job and skills, you will transform a mediocre, burnt out employee to an excellent employee.

Employee Tip: What do I do if I'm Worn Out?

I'll admit I don't understand boredom. My life is full and I can't remember the last time I was bored. But I know I have been and it's always been when I have been underutilized. It's easy to sit there and wait for someone to discover your hidden talents and reignite your passion for your job. The news alert is that it is not likely to happen, except with the most exceptional of bosses. Take responsibility for your happiness and engagement and have a conversation with your boss or HR. Ask to be challenged.

Wired And Tired

My "favorite" burnout category is Frenetic burnout. Why? I was Frenetic. I also believe that Frenetic burnout employees are the biggest opportunity for employers to improve creativity, customer service and growth, yet the most often overlooked.

While most managers view burnt out employees as poor performers, Frenetic employees are dedicated, committed and usually high-performing. They are your hardest workers, putting in extra hours, taking on bigger challenges and they are ambitious. Frenetic employees are also overloaded and overwhelmed, and thus more susceptible to health problems, relationship problems and error-prone.

Employer Tip: What do you do with a Frenetic employee?

It's easy to overlook the Frenetic employee because they won't let you see them sweat. Yet these employees are some of your best workers and they are suffering. While they are skilled and talented, their weakness is balancing life and work, taking care of themselves and managing their physical and mental energy. Let them know their job and career path are safe if they take a break. Require them to take time off. Confiscate their technology when they are on vacation so they unplug if necessary. Refrain from communicating with them on off hours, unless it is a true emergency (i.e., lives are at stake or a building is burning). Give them space for their own self-care and performance management.

Employee Tip: What do I do if I'm Frenetic?

As a former Frenetic, the first thing I realized was I am not my work and I am not my results. This isn't always easy and is a paradigm shift. You might need help from a coach to really have this land for you. Putting yourself first and living a fully-engaged, happy and healthy life makes you a more powerful and valuable person.

As you've seen, burnout is not a black and white issue. There are many shades. Which shade are you?