Corporate America has a Burn-out Problem

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Worn, dried husks of employees have existed since the first person agreed to do a job for a wage—or a meal. Over all these years of hiring, I’ve seen plenty of exhausted staffers looking for a safe haven somewhere, anywhere.

Yet I haven’t seen anything before like what I’ve seen in interviews these last few months. Every single person I’ve screened or interviewed has given hint to exhaustion. Midlevel executives rarely ask so many pointed questions about company culture, office hours, and work-life balance.

Delving into the rationale behind these interviewees’ concerns turned up the following surprising examples of companies pushing employees too far:

  • One candidate asked if we allow staff to take lunch, as she found it efficient to run errands at midday. When pressed, she explained that her previous employer forbade lunches outside the office. She’d lost ten pounds, but not in the way she’d wanted.

  • After explaining that she would not have phone or e-mail connectivity on Sunday after 10 a.m., one candidate’s boss asked if he should question “her commitment to the company.” His snipe seemed highly unjust, as she had completed two all-nighters the week before to ready the organization for an event.

  • A senior professional left an executive role at a major public company because the organization kept her on the road six days a week for over a decade working twelve-plus-hour days.

  • A candidate asked whether we’d allow her to volunteer one night a week, for which she would need to leave the office by 7 p.m. When I expressed surprise that anyone would take issue with such a request, she explained that her current employer frowned on leaving the office before 7, even if the team had completed its work for the day.

Sadly, when I related these stories to my staff, they said I had no idea how bad it has gotten out there. (After all, I’ve worked at FrogDog since 1997.) They said corporations have asked people to do ever more with ever less—and that they see no signs of relief ahead.


Burned-out staff has lower productivity—and lower morale. Further, people’s creative thinking, problem solving abilities, and interpersonal skills suffer when they haven’t had time to rest, rejuvenate, and refresh. And burned-out staff often leave, which increases costs (recruiting, interviewing, training, orientation, ramp-up), damages company culture, and further lowers productivity.

People like to work hard. People like to achieve. And sometimes working your tail off to nail a big project feels like as monumental a challenge and achievement as climbing Mount Everest. Yet people can’t climb Mount Everest every day—no matter how fit. Their bodies can’t sustain the intense physical effort. The constant intense focus exhausts their minds. They get bored, frustrated, angry, and irritated. Why this? Why again? Remind me why I do this?

By all means, ask your team to go all out when warranted. But how often do circumstances truly warrant an all-out level of effort? You do your team a disservice by expecting all-out work all the time. And in ill-serving your team, you damage your company as well.

How does your company keep people from burnout—or does it?