THE BURNOUT TREND?

During one of last lesson’s presentation about work-life balance, we also very briefly touched on the burnout syndrome. More specifically, we discussed that a lack of work-life balance might lead to burnout in the long-term.  However, I feel that burnout is a very vague concept that everyone keeps talking about. It seems almost like a trend, it is responsible for all sorts of sorrow and now apparently even students have to be careful not to suffer from it. To be honest, I feel like burnout is often used as an excuse but as I did not know exactly what burnout was, I decided to research its definition and to find evidence of whether cases of burnout had risen or fallen over the last few years.

First, I decided to find out whether people over the years had gotten more or less interested in burnout by looking at the data from Google Trends.

Burnout InterestI was very surprised to find that according to Google, the search volume for the term “burnout” had actually fallen over the past few years. I thought that the search volume might be a good indicator for people’s interest in a subject. Looking at the search terms that people used, it became clear why the search volume had been decreasing:

Burnout Queries

When people searched for “burnout”, they were not looking for the syndrome, but rather for the computer/console game. This meant that I had to refine my search term.

Burnout Syndrome Interest

The above graph shows the search volume for the term “burnout syndrome”. Unfortunately, Google does not provide absolute numbers, but it can be seen that before 2007, there were almost no searches for “burnout syndrome”. This either meant that since then, work has gotten a lot more stressful, or it undermines my theory that burnout is just a trend and not actually the cause of problems. To find out which explanation was right, I decided to look further.

Burnout Syndrome Queries

The German newspaper “Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung” recently ran a special report concerning burnout. The first thing that I came across is that burnout is not an illness but rather a state of risk that in the long-term can lead to permanent illness.

More interestingly, however, the article also said that in most cases, burnout is not actually primarily caused by work, but rather by our desire to be happy and our tendency to think about issues too much and too often. This somehow validated my hypothesis. I feel that especially us Germans (and the article also primarily focused on Germany) are never satisfied with anything and tend to complain about even the smallest issues. This is where we waste our energy and what ultimately has the potential to make us permanently sick.

Still, I don’t want to seem ignorant and given the evidence, I do appreciate that many people do actually suffer from the burnout syndrome. The article talked about many case studies. It portrayed people from different levels of the organization, be it blue collar workers or high ranked executives. II was still curious to find out why a lot of publicity and search queries for the burnout syndrome had only occurred quite recently.

The first reason that I came across was the financial crisis. Apparently the significant layoffs that occurred in 2008 and afterwards had a significant impact on stress levels, which is understandable. Furthermore, at least in Germany, the term burnout syndrome was not used before 2004. Before that, it was known under the name of the individual illnesses that it could consequently cause. This explains why it seems as if it was a trend. The fact is that burnout has existed for decades if not centuries, only the term used to describe it is relatively new.

Are great leaders born or made? Or both?

Last lesson we discussed whether great leaders are born or made. While I believe that the points mentioned in class were all very valid and changed my opinion to some extent, I am still more convinced that everyone has the chance to become a great leader over the course of their lifetime. I simply don’t believe that your future faith is decided even before you are born and I also follow the common conception that we are moulded by what surrounds us during our lifetime.

More specifically, I think that some people might be at an advantage if they are born with certain characteristics. For example, if you are born an extrovert and can easily approach other people, you might find it easier to move up the hierarchical ladder of the organization to become its leader. However, I do not think that the opposite is true. I don’t see why other people cannot acquire these positive and helpful characteristics during their early years. Still, as I am not an expert in this field, I decided to search around and find out whether there is an answer to this question.

The first study I came across was conducted by the “Center for Creative Leadership” and looked at the above question. Researchers there asked 361 “C-level executives” for their opinion: “Are leaders born or made?” These are the results:

1

As the above chart shows, even executives cannot agree on an answer, however, a lot more of them believe that leaders are made (52% versus 19%). Hence, asking executives for their opinion would not provide an answer, which is why I decided to look at research that covered this area and whether it was able to provide more meaningful results.

An article in “Psychology Today” provides a more specific answer. It states that while this is one of the most discussed questions in leadership theory and while there is no definite answer yet, research seems to suggest that leaders are “mostly made”. In fact, the article is more specific stating that “leadership is about one-third born and two-thirds made”.

I completely agree with their argument of why this is the case. In my eyes, the social skills it takes to be a great leader are much too complex and depend on the cultural and social environment that you work in. Hence, it seems very unlikely that these skills can simply be given to you at birth. I consider it much more likely that we have to make our own experiences, find out how people act and what motivates them, and then use our findings to develop our leadership skills. Additionally, it does not only take social awareness and emotional intelligence. You cannot even become a mediocre leader without having the necessary technical and analytical skills for the job. Put simply, you have to know what you are talking about. Again, it seems very unlikely, even impossible, that some of us acquire these skills right after birth.

However, there also seems to be evidence that suggests that leaders indeed do have distinct characteristics – stating that they were born as leaders. For example, a study conducted by researchers at UCL looked at 4,000 individuals and noticed that a gene referred to as rs4950 was found mainly in people who held a supervisory position. Still, I have to agree with this quotation: “Same as in sport, lack of genetic advantages can be overcome by hard work, commitment and a strong desire.” It even seems to strengthen my opinion that while some might be at an advantage compared to others, this firstly does not mean that they will be successful leaders, it just makes it more likely. Also, if you are not born with rs4950, this does not mean that you won’t be successful. It might just take a little more effort.

To conclude, feel free to take a look at this video since it summarises the main points of this blog entry very well:

 
References:
Amerland, David. Forbes. http://www.forbes.com/sites/netapp/2014/01/09/are-leaders-born-or-made/.

Dancziger, Ronen. Leadership Circles. http://leadership-guide.com/genotype-rs4950-so-what/.

Gentry, William, Jennifer J. Deal, Sarah Stawiski, und Marian Ruderman. Are Leaders Born or Made? http://www.ccl.org/leadership/pdf/research/areleadersbornormade.pdf.

Riggio, Ronald E. Psychology Today. http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/cutting-edge-leadership/200903/leaders-born-or-made.

Gender Differences in Motivation

We talked extensively about motivation at work in session 4 where we looked at the importance of money but also learned how motivation can to a large extent depend on the nature of the task that has to be performed by employees. I personally believe that motivation is an important topic for anyone who wants to work in teams and might have to motivate their co-workers. This is why I decided to do some more research on the topic of motivation at work.

During my research I discovered that there are substantial differences in the importance of motivational factors between men and women (http://www.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business/careers/management/what-motivates-employees-its-not-just-the-money/article13205253/). This particular article noted that money is the fifth most important motivator for men, whereas it is only on rank twelve for women. As this is not just a subtle difference, I decided to investigate further the differences of what motivates men and women. In the following, I would like to share with you some of the insights I have gained.

One of the first things I came across was this infographic by IDG Research Services that gives a comprehensive overview of what men and women value in their workplace:

Looking at the above graphic, I feel that men seem to be more motivated by measureable results. Success, meeting one’s goals and deadlines are all things that can at least to some extent be measured. For women, however, I feel that the factors that motivate them are more “soft” and less “hard facts” that are clearly measurable.

As this article on the Mobilink Careers blog (http://careerblog.mobilinkgsm.com/uncategorized/gender-differences-what-motivates-men-and-women-in-the-workplace/) notes, men indeed seem to be motivated more by “instrumental values” such as salaries or bonuses, whereas women seem to prefer “softer issues” like for example inter-personal relationships, acknowledgement or respect. The article also goes into more detail on the effects of some particular motivators on men and women:

What Motivates Employees

The Gender Divide: What Motivates Employees

 

1.     Financial Rewards

Probably some of the most important extrinsic motivators are financial rewards. Even though one might think that those are equally valued by both genders, this does not seem to be the case. As the article notes, men generally tend to respond better to financial rewards than women and they also work harder in order to gain them. This research by ILM quantifies these findings (https://www.i-l-m.com/Insight/Inspire/2013/October/beyond-the-bonus-research). 41% of women chose base salary as one of their top three motivators, whereas 58% of men included it in their list.

 

2.     Acknowledgement

Praise and acknowledgement seems to motivate both genders. However, women tend to respond more positively to more frequent acknowledgement. As Roy Saunderson from Incentivemag.com notes, “Often, women tend to do better jobs of expressing appreciation, and they also like to receive spoken and written forms of acknowledgement more often than men. Stop and give frequent and specific thanks, especially at every stage of a big project” (http://www.incentivemag.com/article.aspx?id=7231).

 

3.     Power

“Men are motivated when they feel needed” (http://cynthiazhai.wordpress.com/2008/01/04/men-and-women-3-how-to-motivate-the-opposite-sex/).  They named “power to make decisions and personal autonomy” as one of their main motivators according to a report entitled “Women’s Work?” written by Hay Group (http://blogs.theage.com.au/business/executivestyle/managementline/archives/WOMEN%20-%20Motivation%20release%20draft%207.doc). The relative importance of power for men is also depicted in the graphic below:

What Motivates Men and Women at Work?

What Motivates Men and Women at Work?

 

4.     Emotions

As the graphic at the beginning of this post has already shown, women tend to be more motivated by emotional factors. They feel the need to be respected, want their lives to be balanced and believe that empathy is an important resource for them. Whereas women want to hear encouragement and receive support for their work, men are more motivated by measurable success of their work.

Furthermore, as the above graphic “What Motivates Men and Women at Work?” shows, one of the major drivers of why women come back to work is recognition. This ties in closely with their need to feel respected that IDG identified as a major motivator for women. Also, emotions are closely linked to acknowledgement, which we found earlier is another important motivator for women (http://business.lovetoknow.com/wiki/Motivation_Skills_of_Women_vs_Men). “Intimacy, affiliation and altruism are all common emotionally connected motivators for women” (http://www.ehow.com/info_8472175_gender-differences-work-motivation.html).

 

As we have seen, there are several important differences concerning key motivators for men and women. Whereas men seem to prefer “hard” motivators like financial rewards, women are more encouraged by “soft” motivators such as appraisal or acknowledgement.

Hence, I believe that employers should not just apply the same motivational tools to all employees but think more detailed about what drives their employees, men and women in particular.

 

 

Additional sources:

http://www.utm.edu/staff/mikem/documents/Payasamotivator.pdf

http://www.numyspace.co.uk/~unn_tsmc4/prac/labs/fear_success/fearofsuccess1.pdf

http://rcgd.isr.umich.edu/garp/articles/eccles02.pdf

http://blog.ted.com/2013/04/10/what-motivates-us-at-work-7-fascinating-studies-that-give-insights/