Are your employees feeling exhausted, cynical, or just tuned-out? Do they frequently check their phones in meetings, and seem especially uninterested to hear about the next important organizational change? Are they working harder but getting less done? Ill too often or for too long? These are some of the classic warning signs of disengagement.
In a perfect world, work should do so much for us. It should lend us purpose and a sense of meaning, offer us structure and stability. But invariably, something goes wrong—many employees have to pull themselves over the fence each day at a job that is burning them out.
Employee engagement and burnout were declared in a state of “crisis” and the biggest concerns for employers in 2017. And we are right to be concerned. Disengagement comes at the yearly cost of $550 billion to the US economy. But it’s not just our economic prosperity that’s at stake. The study presented in Burnout to Breakthrough shows an alarming correlation between disengagement and the following three health predators: depression, obesity, and suicide.
Here, Ina Catrinescu draws on cutting-edge neuroscience, and integrates social psychology and organizational science to reconsider accepted narratives, connect past developments with contemporary concerns, and examine specific management practices within the context of this workplace crisis. She redefines how we understand work and idleness. And the best part? The same turnkey solution that can aid disengagement and burnout is responsible for unleashing our creativity.
Are you ready to get your employees thirsty to create, their minds tickled, and their hearts racing? Then Burnout to Breakthrough is the right book for you.
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At the dawn of the twenty-second century, knees all red and sore from all the four-on-the-floor crawling, Workforce grabs on to its crib, pulls itself up, and takes its first step. The world seems so different from up here. Things that seemed huge appear a lot less intimidating now. All that intriguing stuff up on the cupboard is no longer out of reach. Workforce looks around for Boss, but Boss is nowhere in sight. Workforce starts to cry, "What if Boss is not coming back?"
Suddenly, on the other side of the room, Workforce sees the door. Workforce wants to take another step. "Is it safe to let go of the crib?" it wonders. "Can I make it across the room on my own?" Carefully, Workforce releases its clutch on the crib rail and darts across the room in a hurry. Yes! Workforce just took its first seven steps, all on its own. Workforce enjoys a victory chortle, its heart pounding. Grabbing on to the door handle, Workforce delights in all the fun to be had ahead. This is the start of a new day.
For thousands of years before that day, its world consisted of a defined number of pigeonholes and a clear set of rules. There was the highchair for eating, the potty for ones and twos, the cradle for sleep, and its favorite playground — the workbox. The workbox was one of Society's most important institutions. Here, Workforce spent most of its life digging for rocks and pebbles, panning for gold nuggets, and building machines. On several occasions, Workforce ducked out of the workbox and went crab-crawling around into the world known as the Beyond. Boss, however, didn't let it stray too far. It seemed to have eyes at the back of its head and always knew where to find Workforce. When it did, the slaps on Workforce's behind let it know that going to the Beyond was verboten and "Not safe!"
"The workbox," Boss told it, "will provide you with meaning, security, and identity in life." A harness, which Workforce was told would give it structure, eventually got strapped around its wrist. And just like that, the Beyond became nothing more than an occasional pie in the sky. Once or twice every year, buckled up in a stroller, Workforce was taken out for a walk. But time seemed to always fly by so quickly, and the colorful, magnetizing Beyond would be gone in a blink of an eye, leaving nothing but memories and hankering behind.
It was during one of those trips to the Beyond that Workforce became determined to create time. "Time," it thought, "will get me more strolls in the Beyond." For several centuries Workforce kept digging, slogging, and panning, harder and harder. It invented telephones, computers, dishwashers, washing machines, and vehicles — all those things allowed Boss and Society to save more and more time. But instead of being taken out on more strolls, Boss kept pulling Workforce back into the box for more. It needed Workforce to run all that machinery and keep making new, shiny toys. Workforce barely ever made it to the highchair to eat, or to the cradle to sleep anymore. Instead of being taken to the Beyond, it became bound behind. Instead of creating time, it created work.
As time went by and Workforce grew more and more anxious, Boss gave it teethers to chew on and munch. When Workforce whimpered, Boss dangled rattles in front of its nose. When Workforce yowled, Boss played it happy tunes. But all the knickknacks, jingles, and tricks only seemed to make matters worse. Workforce grew ill, and Boss was grasping at straws. With no Workforce to pan and dig, at the dusk of the twenty-first century the workbox was in dire straits.
That's why this morning is so special. "What was that about a devouring, soul-consuming workbox? Oh well, it was but an awful nightmare." Workforce gets out of its crib, nursing only a mild hangover of the fake identity and false sense of meaning work once provided. The shackles of structure came off, and the marks left by Boss's wrist-harness are starting to heal. Workforce has grown out of its infancy. It has learned to walk on its own two feet. It grabs on to the door handle with both hands and hangs from it. The door opens. "This is going to be a great day!" A day in the Beyond.
It's beautiful out in the Beyond. The sun is weaving life, winter passes and spring comes, the birds are sounding their joy into the world. But amid all the beauty and wonder, over the singing of the birds and the whispering of the leaves, Workforce hears someone sobbing. It walks toward the sounds and finds Poor on a bench.
"Why are you crying?" Workforce asks.
"I am Poor," it answers.
"And I am Workforce! But, why are you crying?"
"I haven't eaten in days, I cannot afford shelter and have no toys to play with."
Workforce rarely ever thought about it, but all this time, while it was slogging away in the trenches of the workbox, devouring its own health in the obsession to create more time, Poor has been out here having too much of it, suffering scarcity nonetheless.
"What about Martin Luther King's dream?" Workforce asks. "Didn't he say already more than a century ago that the solution to poverty is to abolish it by guaranteed income?"
"Martin Luther King's dream turned out to be but a flight of fancy," Poor says.
"You should go to the workbox," Workforce told it, "Boss will give you food and shelter."
"The workbox?" Poor asks, "Isn't that where all become overworked and ill?"
"Poor has a point," Workforce thought to itself.
"Boss always told me that leisure is deplorable and that work keeps adults from ignorance, drink, and crime. The more worn out I grew the more I started to ask myself whether I was perhaps better off being ignorant, drunk, or a criminal."
"I don't drink and I am not a thief," Poor says. "And leisure gives one time to cultivate its body and mind. It's your kin that engages in pure frivolity when they finally get some time. You watch someone else dance on TV, watch someone else play football, or listen to someone else sing on the radio. Your active energies are so taken up with work, you have nothing left for engaging in those activities yourself. I, on the other hand, have plenty of time and would have heaps of energy, if I wasn't so hungry."
"I must admit — I wouldn't know how to fill my days without eight hours of work," says Workforce with a sullen pout. "I don't even know what I enjoy doing. I don't know if I'd enjoy dancing, running after a ball, or singing."
"Are our options really so limited? Are we really expected to either overwork or starve? There must be a better way!" Poor exclaimed.
Poor and Workforce sat on the bench and pondered for some time.
"I know what we can do!" Workforce finally spoke. "We should go beyond!"
"Beyond?" Poor asked.
"Yes! Beyond narrow thinking. Beyond deploring leisure and worshipping work. Beyond poverty and hunger. Beyond welfare and beyond overwork. Beyond!"
"But how are we going to do that?"
"We'll make an exchange!" Workforce states firmly.
"An exchange?" Poor asked surprised. "But, I have nothing to offer."
"Yes, you have! You've got time!"
"Indeed," Poor said. "That, I've got!"
"I'll give you half of my work in the workbox and you, instead give me four hours in the Beyond. You get food and shelter. And I get time for leisure."
Poor thought about it for a moment and then said, "I don't have your education or skills. I can hardly be of any use."
"You have enough curiosity to make up for all the skills you lack. You lack them because no one has taught you. I can teach you my trade. Not all the work I do, moreover, requires a scientist to be accomplished. Most of the day I am busy simply moving matter about."
"I can move matter about!" Poor said with confidence.
"Great! Then you're fit for the job!" Workforce said elated, "Think about all the great things we can accomplish together with just four hours a day!"
"I guess I can think of some."
"Some?! The benefits are endless. Every painter will be able to paint without starving. Young writers will not be forced to erode their taste and capacity by putting their passion on hold until they've achieved economic independence. Professional workers will have time to develop their independent ideas. Doctors will have time to stay up to date with the progress of medicine. Teachers can finally break away from outdated teaching methods they learned in their youth. But most importantly, we will all have time to better ourselves and each other."
"Yes!" Poor hastily agreed. "This will be the end of poverty!"
"Yes!" Workforce said, "And the end of drudgery."
"The end of hunger!"
"And the end of frayed nerves!"
"The end of homelessness!"
"And the end of weariness!"
"The end of sickness!"
"And the end of passive and vapid habits!"
"The end of ignorance and unoriginal thinking!"
"The end ..."CHAPTER 2
Liberty Is Precious, and It Must Be Carefully Rationed
In 1987, in a small city in the Moldavian Soviet Socialist Republic, a group of scouts were on the lookout for high-potential gymnasts to join a team of athletes to be trained for the Olympics. I was only seven years old at the time. I remember it to this day, how a chain of shivers ran down my spine when one of the strangers who joined our physical training class pointed at me. I learned later that day that I had been recruited. My training began the following week. When at the age of ten I got transferred to a new group to start preparing for the Olympics, my mother raised her concerns. This was not the future she had envisioned for me. "My daughter is going to become a chef cook!" she told my coach. At this point, the coach informed her that I was "state property" now.
I felt at home on the mat among the tall stained-glass windows of the new gym. I could never really understand why Grandmother berated the Soviets for repurposing churches. They were made for beautiful, spacious sport schools. The second half hour of the class, the splits practice between warm-up and somersaults, was my favorite. It was during one of those half hours that I learned something I would never forget. The TV, which was always on mute during training, was running a replay of some program. The subtitles that ran across the image of a vigorous, blue-eyed man with thick brown hair seasoned with a touch of gray read something along the following lines:
"The Soviet Union denies human freedom and human dignity to its citizens."
For a moment, I thought that I was watching a parody, and couldn't believe when the newscaster made an appearance, I was watching the news.
I was dumbstruck. What did this stranger — a man who obviously didn't even speak my language — mean? What was he talking about? We were not unfree. We had a good, peaceful life. My mother had just spent half of her monthly salary (zarplata) on my imported, dark blue jeans and red leather jacket. Our one-bedroom apartment, just on the outskirts of the city center, was covered from wall to wall in Persian carpets, and we were approaching the end of the waiting list for a new sleeping sofa. The streets of the city we lived in were framed by lush chestnut trees and concrete light poles. The shelves of the two grocery stores stowed everything we needed: bread, butter, sugar, salt, sunflower oil, and even canned foods. Fresh meat was delivered to the stores each Thursday morning, and the queues were a great opportunity to properly catch up with neighbors.
I saw the face of that man on TV more and more often after that. People seemed to like him. He was always met with fervent applause. You could hardly watch the news anymore without an image of him and Gorbachev shaking hands. I learned that his name was Ronald Reagan, and, soon, with the words "Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!" he announced the apocalypse of life as I knew it: The beginning of the end of the Soviet Union.
To the outside world, the fall of the USSR on December 26, 1991, represented freedom, the abolition of an "Evil Empire," and declaration of independence for the fifteen republics. But if you stepped out into the streets that day you'd see no sounds of triumph. It struck me how solemn people appeared to be. Moldova's folk, who threw parades even on Children's Day, were neither marching nor cheering that day. Just silence among the gaps in the queue for fresh meat. I realized only years later that this was not a silence of disbelief. This was a silence of apprehension.
My mother's worst fear that I would become a gymnast did not materialize. The sport school was stripped of springboards, balance beams, and rubber mats, and inundated by icons, relics, and candles instead. The focal point that was once animated by backflips and handsprings on the vaulting horse was now occupied by a sedate altar. Instead of our athletic, ponytailed, sylphlike, spandex-clad coach, a bearded, solemn, and stern long-robed priest governed the chapel. My evenings were now filled with reading instead.
The pulling back of the Iron Curtain brought the light in where literature, other than the partisan history of the Soviet Union, written by authors other than "our father" Lenin, started flooding the shelves of our libraries. Being able to choose what we could read felt liberating at first. This is where I learned that the place I believed to be my safe haven was in fact the "focus of evil in the modern world."
The more I read, the more I grew to abhor and detest the Soviets — the very people I once held dear as my leaders. I could regard them in no other light than a band of successful robbers, who had snatched from us our beliefs, language, and tradition and reduced us to imbeciles. I loathed them as being the meanest as well as the most wicked of men.
As I read and contemplated the subject, something I had rarely been inclined to do before, discontentment had come to torment and sting my soul to abominable anguish. My parents were divorcing and a little in denial, so I was left to my own devices to writhe under the weight of realizations. I would at times feel that access to knowledge had been a curse rather than a blessing. My eyes had opened to a horrible pit, but no one gave me a ladder upon which to climb out. In moments of agony, I envied my parents for their ability to ignore all of this. When they mused with nostalgia about "the good old times" I felt terribly estranged from them. The moat of ignorance that isolated us from truth remains incomprehensible to their generation to this day.
The working of the Soviets was nothing short of genius. They didn't have to whip or shackle us into compliance. They simply infiltrated our brains. Marginalizing and regulating the subjects of our education, they ensured that we started life with a handicap. Not even the brightest of us stood a chance at extricating ourselves from our assigned lot. This form of slavery is subliminal, but bulletproof, and maintained the desired measure of social order, peace, and tranquility for the ruling class.
At times, I wished myself to be feebleminded again. I preferred the condition of the ignorant to my own. Anything, no matter what, to deliver me from thinking! I wished to go back to the times when we had it all. But I knew that although we had it all, we had nothing at all.
It was then I set my eyes out for a distant shore. And, as soon as I was old enough I departed from my estranged home full of hope. The hope of an anxious young girl with a suspicious last name, who believed that free Western Europe had a place for her too.
The move to a modern and democratic society felt like the silver lining. What better home than the Netherlands could a freedom-starved soul ask for? With the steadfastness of the pioneer in me, I joined the race to the top of the career ladder at full steam. My every jump forward was propelled by a springboard. The cordial Dutch secured my professional backflips and handsprings. "Freedom feels great!" I thought, as I drenched every nook and cranny of my spine in it.
But, after spending the next decade or more chasing after the next degree, a more profitable profession, a more rewarding career, after years of perfecting my skill set and professional experience, I felt more like I was behind an Iron Curtain than ever before. I wondered, how much more liberated are the people from the developed countries than those under Soviet rule were? They aren't wearing Lenin's red breast badge pinned to their chest like I was when I was a child; they carry a heavy ladder before them of equal significance. They don't have one man with a gun who controls one hundred men without guns, but there's always some man in a leather chair that does. They are not deprived of liberty; their liberty is so precious that it is carefully rationed. They are not enslaved to some immutable dogma; they're tethered to a rat race instead. Everywhere I looked, from the European Union, to the United Arab Emirates, to the United States, I found compelling evidence that we were all united. United by a common foible, which I believe may be more of a curse: The single-minded pursuit of wealth, which leads smart people to squander the things that money can't buy.(Continues…)
Excerpted from "Burnout to Breakthrough"
Copyright © 2018 Ina Catrinescu.
Excerpted by permission of Skyhorse Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Part 1 The War of Work 1
1 The End 3
2 Liberty Is Precious, and It Must Be Carefully Rationed 8
3 The Dauphin Mystery 13
4 The Quiet War 20
5 The Western Karoshi 28
6 The Gift of Burnout 36
7 From May Day to Mayday 45
8 The Truth about Motivation 56
Part 2 Silent Weapons 65
1 The Good Manipulator 67
2 Change Management 73
3 Emotional Intelligence 82
4 Employee Satisfaction 96
5 Leadership Development 112
6 Performance Management 132
7 Systematic Stupidity 139
8 Corporate Values 147
Part 3 Welshare 155
1 The Well-Intentioned Path to Harm 157
2 The Myths of Survival 163
3 Time Is Money 173
4 In Praise of Leisure 180
5 The Four-Hour Workday 185