As religiosity has declined over the decades, burnout has increased, and I am not sure that’s a mere coincidence… in fact, there are many compelling studies that suggest that religious people generally experience less burnout than their non-religious colleagues!
So what does burnout have to do with worship?
What does church (or synagogue or mosque…) attendance have to do with work!?
The answer? I might be to blame… well, let’s blame Martin Luther and the Protestant Reformation. But, the many thought-leaders preaching the meaningfulness of work in the 500+ years since, likely contributed to the problem.
Pre-Reformation, people found meaning in their religions. People were either “called” to the ministry or they simply financed their lives through the necessary-evil of work.
That was until Luther questioned this and challenged whether it was only clergy who were “called to serve”
…or perhaps, even Cobblers, who made shoes to protect and warm people’s feet, might also be “serving.” After all, Cobblers were bettering people’s lives, through their work.
And so the concept of “Work as Calling” was born, and we began to question whether one should merely work to live or perhaps, they should live to work, and serve humanity through their labor.
It’s a beautiful concept with an unintended consequence…
We often enter the workforce with such high aspirations…
We enter the workforce with expectations that we will have positive and lasting impacts on our customers, clients, patients, students… the world!
But then, we are faced with organizational beaurocracy, interpersonal conflict, and… paperwork(!), distracting us, (or even completely denying us) from our mission. And so, we burn out…
You see, burnout, is so often misunderstood and mischaracterized. At it’s core, burnout is NOT about workload… it’s not about a lack of resilience or compassion fatigue…
At it’s core, burnout, reflects an existential crisis… Burnout is the manifestation of our “naïve” dreams & aspirations crashing down to the reality of the modern workplace.
Therefore, those who have alternative outlets for preserving their self-identity and personal mission…
Those who don’t search for meaning from their work, as they fulfill that need through their relationship with their religion and / or god…
Those individuals, expect much less from their work and are therefore, never set up for disillusionment and ultimately burnout.
**Putting it into action**
What do we do with this information? Am I suggesting that we should become cynics and just use our work as a means to an end? Show up for the paycheck and give up on this silly stuff like finding meaning in our work!?
No way!! When we DO find work meaningful, we tend to experience, both, greater job satisfaction AND greater life satisfaction! Our lives improve and our work performance improves in a multitude of ways!
Here is what I am suggesting:
Build mission focused organizations! Instill and maintain a culture that embraces the deeper meaningfulness of your organization.
Reduce (or Remove) bureaucracy & any other unnecessary barriers that might distract from your mission-critical work.
Connect the dots! Illustrate and remind your team how even the mundane work tasks are not trivial and are ultimately mission critical (if they aren’t.. then stop doing them!)
Realistic Job Previews (RJP), offer job candidates an honest look at your organization… the good, the bad, and the ugly, so that there are no unpleasant surprises when they come on board.
Practice Corporate Social Responsibility through employee volunteering opportunities that align with the mission of the organization.
Encourage Balance… you and your employees need balance in your lives with multiple outlets for connecting with your personal missions. People who find their jobs meaningful often find it difficult to unplug… mandate it!
We spend the majority of our waking hours at work… work should add meaning to our lives, it should be an outlet for us to impact the world in a positive way.. it should even feel like our calling…
BUT, to prevent burnout, we must stay focused on our mission, while simultaneously managing our expectations along the way.