We normally associate burnout with being overworked, but that’s not actually the cause.
Studies show that when you’re working on something you feel passionate about — when you feel impact — you’re often able to go on much longer and be more productive than when you’re simply going through the motions.
Executive advisor Liz Wiseman shares the difference between the kinds of people who burn out easily and those who self-generate a dynamic environment for themselves in the workplace.
LIZ WISEMAN: One of the things that comes up over and over in my research is the relationship between impact and burnout. In this moment in time that we find ourselves in, we're dealing with epidemic levels of burnout in the workplace. Burnout meaning you're not just tired, you're inexplicably tired.
And it is so easy to assume that people burn out because they have too much work. There's a workload that's too big. There's too much pressure. Too much is on their shoulders. But everything in my research points to something different. We don't tend to burn out because we've got too much work. We burn out because we have too little impact.
Hi, I'm Liz Wiseman. I am a researcher and an executive advisor, and my latest book is Impact Players, How to Take the Lead, Play Bigger, and Multiply Your Impact. Everybody craves impact. We all want our work to matter.
When we ask people, "What is the work experience like when you're working hard but yet you're strangely underutilized?" Or maybe You're doing work that isn't landing, that doesn't seem to have impact, where you feel like you're working hard but you're not getting anywhere or nobody sees or notices. People describe this state of work as frustrating, draining, demoralizing, and exhausting.
Now when we ask people, "What is work like when you're doing work that matters, that's visible, that gets noticed?" You're using all of your skills and knowledge and capability and every IQ point. What people will say, it's totally exhilarating. It's fulfilling. It's energizing. It's impactful.
The way that you work has really important implications for burnout, for our own burnout, for burnout that's happening inside of an organization. How we think and how we operate can end up creating extraordinary differences in impact. And what that means is without working harder we can increase our impact and avoid burnout.
The idea of impact players is a metaphor that I borrowed from sports. In the sports world, we all know who the impact players are. There are people who make this valuable contribution, but teams play better because they're on the team. They're the people we turn to in the high-stakes situation and the people we hand the ball to in the moments that matter. People we know are going to go out there and get the job done, but they're going to do it in a way that secures a win for the whole team.
In my research, what I began to see is that the workplace has impact players as well. When situations are messy, ambiguous, uncertain, the impact players move toward it and they take charge of it. While the ordinary contributor tends to pull back and maybe even run from the chaos, the impact players dive into it. They dive into it much like a surfer when they see this kind of big oncoming wave instead retreating, they dive through that wave to get to the other side where there's play, where there's opportunity, where there's a chance to innovate.
I think it's pretty easy to hear about impact players and to see the value they're contributing, the power of the work that they're doing, and assume that to increase your impact you have to work harder. But what we have found is that the impact players in our study weren't working harder. They were working differently.
The most important practice of impact players is that they do the job that's needed. The difference between doing your job and doing the job that's needed really is the mindset. The mindset of doing your job is a mindset of competence and it's a mindset of diligence. This is my job, it's what I was hired to do, this is my boundary, this is my box, and I'm going to do it and I'm going to do it well.
Now the mindset for the impact player is not one of diligence, it's one of service. How do I be of service to the most important priorities of the organization? What are the hot projects, the things that get funded and visibility, what are hot issues that divert people's attention? Understand those hot spots, and then point yourself toward those.
Working on something that's important, that's visible, and has heat can feel like more pressure. But if you are working on what is red-hot relevant, there's momentum. Meetings get scheduled. Budgets start to flow. You start to receive feedback and guidance and praise. So instead of thinking about doing more work, think about doing more impactful work. And think about working where there's heat and where you can work with ease rather than with effort.
That impact player mindset is an antidote to burnout. Get smarter faster with videos from the world's biggest thinkers. To learn even more from the world's biggest thinkers, Get BigThink+ for your business.