Copyright notice is at bottom


by Dr. Beverly Potter

Motivational Problem

Burnout is a loss of will in which motivation is damaged, resulting in an increasing inability to mobilize interest and capabilities.

Just as the body needs vitamins and protein for optimal health,
certain nutrients arealso essential to sustain high motivation.
What sustains high levels of motivation.
Positive consequences or "wins" for good work.

Feeling you can control important factors influencing your work.

Wins for Good Work
If your motivation is to remain high, there must be positive consequences or "wins" for performing.
Suppose, for example, you take work home from the office and upon discovering this your boss unexpectedly gives you Friday afternoon off. You'll probably experience this as a win for having worked at home, and motivation to work at home will probably increase.
If, on the other hand, your boss criticizes you, saying you're an incompetent who can't get the job done during work hours, chances are you'll stop working at home. In other words, you are likely to repeat actions that result in desirable consequences or wins and stop doing things that result in negative consequences or punishment.

Wins can be positive or negative.
Positive Wins
 A positive win occurs when you do something and as a result
something positive occurs.
For example, you make a sale and as a result you get a bonus. If you need the money, the bonus is a win for making the sale. If you complete an assignment on time and as a result you experience a feeling of satisfaction, this good feeling is a win. If you look good in a new outfit and as a result receive a compliment from someone you respect, the compliment is a win.
In each case, your motivation to repeat the action that led to the win will probably remain high. That is, if a bonus is a win for you, then you will probably be motivated to make a sale. If satisfaction feels good to you, then your motivation to get work done on time will probably increase. If a compliment from a person you respect is important to you, you're likely to buy more new outfits.
Positive wins include praise, feelings of satisfaction,
high self-esteem, raises, bonuses, promotions, fame,
credibility, challenge, adventure, fun,
andanything else that is positive to you.
Negative Wins
A negative win encourages motivation by taking a negative away.
A negative win occurs when a negativesituation exists and you do something that makes the negative situation going away.

A negative win is not punishment. This is a common misunderstanding. Punishment is something that lessens motivation, whereas a win encourages motivation.

A negative win is like the old joke where a man, who is banging his head against a wall, says, "Oh, this really hurts!" When a second man asks, "Why are you doing that?" the first man replies, "Because it feels so good when I stop!"

Like positive wins, negative wins promote high motivation.
Examples of negative wins
Suppose you have a headache so you take an aspirin and the headache stops. You just experienced a negative win.

When an employee is socializing instead of working (negative situation to the boss) so the boss chews him out (do something) and the employee stops talking and works quietly (negative disappears).

Negativewins include avoiding criticism, alleviating
loneliness, reducing debts, turning off fear, avoiding
guilt, getting away from bad relationships, and avoiding
anything else that you find punitive and unpleasant.
When you perform but receive no wins, motivation will usually suffer,
especially when you expected a win.
Being ignored and unappreciated.
You spend several hours cleaning up the office and putting away papers and books stacked on the floor. You expect your business partner to be pleased but instead she says nothing about the tidy office and doesn't even seem to notice at all. Chances are you will be less likely to straighten up the office in the future.
When you perform and are punished, motivation will probably decline.
After working all weekend on a proposal, your boss flips through it while frowning, points to a word on the last page and says, "You misspelled this word." You'll probably take this response to be nit-picking and critical. Chances are your motivation to work on weekends will be diminished.
Other workplace punishments
Criticism, loss of pay, reassignment of desireable projects,
    taking away perks
Wins and Motivation
While positive and negative wins keep motivation high,they are not equal.

Seeking Motivation

Positive wins promote seeking motivation which is striving for positives

Avoidance Motivation

Negative wins create a motivation to avoid a negative

People often call anyone who works a lot a workaholic. But the time spent working is a less important distinction than the underlying motivation for working so much.

Workaholism is propelled by fear-based decisions - decisions aimed at avoiding
    unpleasant situations.

A work enthusiast works long hours out of enjoyment. A positive motivation
    pulls the work enthusiast forward to achieve various desirable wins.

Timing of Wins
The sooner the win, the more powerful its impact.
A win such as recognition that comes weeks or months after performance of a laudable deed has little impact.
Delayed recognition and compensation is a problem for many people like grant writers and novelists, for example. When there is a long delay between work and outcome, you can feel unrewarded even when wins finally do come.

"Devices" as the Christmas bonus are meant to be an acknowledgment for good work. Unfortunately, if the good work occurred in the middle of the summer and the recognition doesn't come until Christmas, the bonus does little to maintain motivation.

Feelings of Control
When we feel in control, we relax because we have an understanding of how to gain the wins we want and avoid negatives we don't want. When you can't discover casual links between your behavior and the world's response you can feel like you have little control over what happens to you.

A sense of uncontrollability or helplessness is the final stage of burnout and is accompanied by depression and feelings of futility.

We must believe we are potent, that we have the power to influence what happens to us. I say "believe" because how we see the world exerts a significant impact upon one's susceptibility to burnout. Believing that you can't control what happens to you and feeling helpless is one of the most threatening human experiences.
Any time you believe the world uncontrollable, you are in trouble.
Research suggests, for example, that Voodoo deaths may be caused because the victims believed they were helpless. Many concentration-camp prisoners seemed to have died of helplessness. They were told and believed that the environment - the guards - had total power over them. Based on his own experience, Bruno Bettleheim, a renowned psychologist who survived one of the worst Nazi death camps, says that it was when people gave up trying to influence what happened to them that they became "walking corpses."
Vicious Cycle
Burnout erodes in insidious ways. Most detrimental is the way that experiencing uncontrollability tends to undermine motivation to learn in new situations.
Burnout victims have learned that they can't control their respective worlds so they stop trying to do so, which handicaps their ability to adapt or learn in the future. In this way they become psychologically "crippled" and burnout becomes chronic.

When people stop looking for ways to control their situations, they will stop finding them. Their own self-imposed "blindness" will keep them helpless.

They will remain helpless because they feel helpless. Once a defeatist attitude is learned, it tends to cling tenaciously. Defeated people see only defeat, never success, and thereby remain defeated.

Job Depression

Job burnout could be called job depression. Some people wonder how to determine if the problem is one of general depression that infects ones work, or if it is job depression that infects one's life.
Answering this chicken-and-egg type of question is academic. Whether the source of your burnout is in your job or your personal life, in either case burnout is a trap because the process wears you down until it becomes too painful to act. You must take action to break out of the burnout cycle.The first step is to isolate and identify the situations undermining your motivation.
Burnout is not an all-or-nothing proposition.
Like fire, motivation gets stronger and burns hotter, or diminishes and burns out. There is no constant state. On any particular day enthusiasm for work is increasing or decreasing but it does not remain the same. Even the hottest fires will burn out, so we tend them fanning, stoking, and occasionally adding another log. Like fires, people are not static. When motivation wanes, we burn out. There is no need for alarm as long as you still have fuel, know how to tend motivation, and haven't waited too long.
Are You Burning Out?
To find out if you are burning out, go to the article called "Am I Burning Out?" test where you will find a self-scoring quiz which will give you an idea of how people caught in the burnout cycle feel.


Copyright © 1980, 1993, 1998: Beverly A. Potter, from "Overcoming Job Burnout: How to Renew Enthusiasm for Work", Ronin.  All Rights Reserved. This article man be down loaded for person use.  Any other use requires written permission from docpotter.

Back to Burnout Collection Table of Contents