All Sections

Home | Business

Dr. Paul Baard's Motivation Matters: Managerial burnout affects the entire team

By Dr. Paul P. Baard
September 17. 2017 6:05PM

Managers lead; some well, some not so well. They share a vision with their people either explicitly or through their attitudes and personal performance.

In good times, they lead their people to victories — meeting productivity goals, profit targets and the many other measures of success firms have. But sometimes there is a drop off in effort that occurs, attributable to a variety of causes, both personal and professional. Often at the root of the problem is a phenomenon called job burnout. Of one thing we can be certain: A decline in a manager’s enthusiasm and performance will impact his or her team.

Employees, as is true also of professional athletes, want to play on a winning team. A culture of non-success is a bad place in which to work. In such an environment, subordinates will be faced with some options as they observe the manager’s decline in performance (and they will discern that as it occurs).

One is dropping down to the manager’s newly-lowered standards for himself. Another option would be to have several team members do an end run, going to someone above the boss to request intervention or even replacement of the lackadaisical leader. Of course, an additional possibility is to go follow a leader elsewhere in the company — or outside of it. People want to succeed.

The hyper-demanding workplace that now exists for most every business brings pressure that just doesn’t seem to let up. Work demands follow the manager during commuting time, on weekends, and while on vacation, via the ubiquitous cell phone with its multitudinous notification possibilities.

One Gallup survey found 41 percent of workers experienced the symptoms of burnout in the previous 30 days. If managers were measured separately, one can only imagine the occurrence level increasing, given the demands of overseeing subordinates’ work coupled with their additional responsibilities and pressures from above.

Dr. Christina Maslach, a psychologist at the University of California at Berkeley, describes burnout as resulting from three factors: exhaustion, cynicism and feelings of ineffectiveness — the sense that nothing one does matters. To really treat burnout, she says, one has to address what is going on in one’s head and at work.

Burnout can be situational (e.g., a busy season or a surge in new business or servicing demands) or ongoing. It can be experienced as relatively mild or severe. If it has reached a debilitating level, the sufferer might consider seeking out professional counseling, such as a psychologist.

For milder cases, alternatives include examining the symptoms with an eye toward improving one’s circumstances or perceptions of same. Introducing strategies for coping (such as, physical workouts, volunteering in charitable work, taking a day off, etc.) might help. Relaxation techniques might also prove useful. Another tack would be turning to a career counselor or coach to help shed light on different job options.

A lack of control or the inability to influence how one’s work gets done can negatively impact self-motivation, which is affected by the satisfaction, or frustration, of the need for autonomy. This might be improved by assertively (not aggressively) approaching one’s boss with alternatives or, perhaps, to explain the need for additional resources to accomplish the work at hand.

Social support, which addresses the innate psychological need for connectedness or relatedness, is another area to be examined and may require the attention of senior management to bring about needed change. Strengthening a sense of team, wherein colleagues are encouraged to help out others encountering a surge in demands, can go a long way to relieving stress.

Managing expectations of quality and timeliness of assignments should be reviewed to be certain ample opportunity exists in order to meet the motivational need for competence, that is, to feel optimally, not maximally, challenged by one’s job.

At the end of it all, work burnout looms as a threat to individual and corporate growth. Executives will do well to be alert to its occurrence and to be ready to act on it promptly.

Dr. Paul P. Baard is an organizational psychologist, specializing in motivation, with Fordham University, a former senior line executive in the television industry, and the lead author of a book on leadership and motivation. He and Veronica Baard, a former managing director responsible for HR at a major international investment banking firm, head up Baard Consulting LLC, a firm in the greater Boston area, focusing on motivation, conflict reduction, and team building. Questions are welcomed at

Business Columns

More Headlines