Supervisory Leadership

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How do I know if someone who works for me is burning out?

Thanks primarily to the work of Martin Seligman, psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, we've got a pretty good idea of how to spot burnout before it goes incredibly far. The key is in language.

When I'm veering close to burnout, the way I describe my situation changes. Here are some examples.

I may start saying that "nothing I do matters."

I may start ascribing successful events to outside forces (such as good luck) and unsuccessful ones to something I did.

I may start saying some variation of "I always screw up."

All of those are different than the way I'd describe my situation if I wasn't approaching, entering, or in the midst of burnout. It helps me to think of burnout as a form of depression that everyone goes to through, to some extent, several times in their life.

Burnout is reversible but not treatable. In other words, there's not magic cure. What does seem to work is change--changing the environment by getting away, taking on a new assignment or project--something different. The early the change can happen, the more effective it's likely to be, that's why the language indicators are so important.


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