February 2019

Burnout - There is No App For That

By Kosta Ligris

There was a time when once you left your office you couldn’t be reached. Although doctors and emergency response personnel used pagers, most of us were fairly “disconnected” until we got back to the office or home. Today’s children have never lived in or imagined a world without smartphones or tablets. We are connected to the internet all the time to work, shop, communicate and even date. We make use of data at unprecedented rates. We truly are living in a world in which “there is an app for that.”

Take newspapers for example: the advertising revenue of paper editions continues to decline. We get news online and many times in tweets that are 140 words or fewer. We are constantly busy with calls, texts, iMessage, Skype, WhatsApp and a with plethora of other platforms that have messaging components.

What does this “connection” mean for us in the long term? And how is it affecting our mental health, relationships and development?

Perhaps we can turn to our friends in France for some guidance. In 2017, French unions claiming that new business tools and technology had fostered an “explosion of undeclared labor” succeeded in getting the government to enact a law that allows workers to “disconnect.” Unions argued that emails and new connectivity platforms force employees to work well beyond the number of acceptable hours.

Researchers, scholars and governmental authorities are recognizing the effects of “burnout.” In 2011 the FAA established a rule to combat pilot fatigue. In 2007 The Joint Commission Journal on Quality and Patient Safety published “Effects of Health Care Provider Work Hours and Sleep Deprivation on Safety and Performance.” The article noted that “physicians-in-training working long hours have been found to be at greatly increased risk of injuring their patients or themselves.” [i] Moreover, it claimed that docs working traditional schedules with recurrent 24-hour shifts made “36 percent more serious medical errors” and “double their risk of a motor vehicle crash when driving home.” In May 2018, when the Supreme Court of New Jersey admonished an attorney for missing critical deadlines for clients, he claimed that his firm had “set him up to fail” by assigning over 100 files to him.

Certain jobs, especially at the C-level, place grueling demands on individuals. Overwhelming hours, responsibilities to clients, staff and shareholders have always placed CEOs, managers and other executives in a direct path to burnout. The concept is certainly not a new one—in fact, a great article in The Harvard Business Review titled “When Executives Burn Out” was originally published as early as 1981. 

Today’s constant connection is bad news for those already at risk of burnout. To make matters worse, many people consider their connectivity to be an indispensable virtue and believe that being constantly connected is the key differentiator to prove their worth. This type of attitude naturally fueled by technology has created a high risk of burnout across work hierarchies. Just think: when was the last time that you set an out of office message and didn’t have the urge to pick up your device and peek at your inbox?

There is no going back: technology and innovation will continue to improve our ability to communicate. But we cannot pretend that our need for sleep, rest, exercise, nutrition and social interactions have gone away.

How do we relax and take a break? Is it possible to do so? Common sense and research tell us that nothing is better than prevention. Let’s double-click on the motivation that leads to burnout. Driven executives and managers have a sense of work responsibility. We don’t want to let our clients down, we want to provide for our loved ones, we seek recognition.

Well, what happens to all these people, and to us, if we burnout? We know the painful answer. My theory is simple: preventing burnout positions us to be our best selves. A week off to decompress and catch up on sleep is a better investment than countless hours in a doctor’s office or worse, in an emergency room. The best medicine for panic attacks is to never get them. Rather than fueling years of resentment and feelings of neglect, take some half days to spend with your family and loved ones.

Ultimately, I preach that the single greatest skill for a busy professional is managing expectations. This same powerful skill can be used to manage your team, projects, deadlines and your personal life. Managing expectations is the process by which you define what you and others should expect—a powerful tool based on communication, realism and transparency.

Let your colleagues, boss or customers know when you are unavailable. Have an active conversation with them about the importance of taking time off—chances are they struggle with the same problems in their professional and personal lives and will respect you more for holding the line. Create an environment in which you can have safe and meaningful discussions with the people in your life. Create an environment in which you appreciate the benefits of taking care of your physical and mental health, be honest with yourself about what is realistic, don’t forget that the only thing worse than letting others down is letting yourself down.

Technology can help us lead more productive and joyous lives. For instance, there is an app called iBeer, which makes your phone look like a glass of beer, just to get a laugh or reaction from people. The app RunPee lets you know the best time to run to the bathroom during movies in its database. Slack has changed the way we communicate with teams. But when it comes to reversing burnout, there just is no app for that.  

Kosta Ligris (@kligris) is the founder of the Ligris Companies. Kosta has represented and consulted for some of the nation’s largest banks and real estate companies. He also mentors, advises, and invests in startups in FinTech, PropTech, and blockchain. https://www.ligris.com/

[i] https://www.jointcommission.org/assets/1/18/S2-JQPS-11-07S-lockley.pdf