Today’s 24/7 almost, 365-day business world of increased demands; appears to have become the “new normal.” Changes one on top of the other often compound and go unnoticed in the name of getting what needs to be done, completed. Maintaining a competitive edge, secured employment and financial solvency is of primary importance for most professionals. There are risks associated with both keeping up and not keeping up with the high pace.
Human energy is not, however, without limits. Social Psychologist, Roy Baumeister author of the book Willpower, likens behavioral control to a muscle that can fatigue if overused. He posits that exercising willpower, but also making decisions and choices and taking initiative takes energy – physical and mental. He notes that these active processes all seem to draw on the same well of energy. Our health status and strength of our immune system has significant bearing on our ability to exercise control of our behavior.
Bauermeister indicates that when willpower becomes depleted – glucose can revive it. Getting a good night’s sleep and eating healthy – protein- rich nutrient dense foods as fuel is important in preserving the constraint and focus needed to maintain willpower. Balance in lifestyle is paramount in maintaining and replenishing energy.
When the work environment becomes overwhelming with unmanageable workloads, absence of support and direction, lack of role clarity, ongoing job insecurity, and unpleasant or poor working conditions, it is only a matter of time until a professional will become burned out and less effective. There will be a higher likelihood of a behavioral or health crisis.
Consider this hypothetical situation as an example:
Your Vice President of Information Technology who has a flawless track record of enterprise management begins to demonstrate angry outbursts and explosive behavior – While he has always been highly organized and focused, he becomes overly critical and controlling. His direct reports fear him and avoid interacting with him on projects and deliverables. He makes reactive, unilateral decisions, over -communicates and overworks.
His direct reports receive demanding emails in the late hours of the night and weekends – Some decide to leave. Recently, a key implementation was delayed due to miscommunication of time sensitive information and the loss of a key staff member. You consult with him, and he is defensive and deflects all accountability.
High functioning – high performing professionals often minimize their stress levels and the impact of their distress and or impairments on others in the work environment. Their intelligence, focus, and determination while beneficial as high performers can in turn serve as liabilities, because their strengths can work against them. When it comes time to put on the brakes and downshift in order to regroup and get clear about how to move forward more productively, it becomes more difficult. Determination and drive can become obstacles as exhaustion sets in and health and behavioral control deteriorates.
The high performing IT executive that all of the sudden turns intense, controlling and angry is more than likely suffering from burn-out and moving into exhaustion. His work life balance is more than likely nonexistent, impacting his marriage and home life. Marital stress and constant fears about losing his job and having kids in college weigh on him heavily. Caught in a cycle of control, silently and unknowingly suffering underlying depression, he has become depleted of energy, exhausted and too afraid to stop because he may not be able to restart. He becomes highly impulsive and compulsive.
Chronic compounded stress over the long-term can result in vital exhaustion. Vital exhaustion (VE) is real and very serious. It is a syndrome of chronic psychological stress and burnout resulting from a breakdown in adaptation with:
– Feelings of excessive fatigue and low energy
– Increased irritability
– Feelings of demoralization
Vital exhaustion is often due to ongoing overwork or problems at work that have not been able to be solved – And or the employee experiences a real or symbolic loss of his or her life – control over one’s life and is completely overwhelmed and hopeless.
According to the American Heart Association, vital exhaustion can be an extreme threat to a person’s health because of a very high increase in the chance for sudden cardiac death. For these reasons, it has been suggested that VE is a state of mind that people arrive at when their resources for adapting to stress have broken down – Adaptation is key to survival.
By the time a person reaches the point of exhaustion; the situation has often taken on the velocity of a runaway train. A crisis will require stronger efforts to put the brakes on, and the stakes are higher – damages can result.
As experienced evaluators, we at Integrated Treatment Solutions know how delicate such situations can be. We know that the presenting issue is often only “the tip of the iceberg” and that no matter how thorough and productive an assessment may be it is only as good as what follows. Providing feedback, collaborating on treatment planning and focused implementation must happen to gain optimum results.
Debriefing and educating evaluation participants and the referring organization on findings and what they mean is essential to the process. Everyone involved needs help.
Where there is communication and commitment, there is always hope, possibilities and new choices.
A solutions – focused approach is necessary. Both the professional and his or her organization can benefit from the assessment process with each party’s best interest in mind.
Going back to our IT executive; he can receive the help he needs, including stress management, financial and or marital counseling and his depression treated. He can be offered career planning and establish short and long-term goals for himself – A sense of control and optimism restored.
A mutually accountable win-win can happen with a renewed sense of confidence and future plan of action.