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The Cure for Intranet Burnout

By Paul Chin

Originally published in Intranet Journal (28-Jun-2007)

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It's rare that I would base an entire article on a single e-mail, but I recently received one that caught my attention because it's something we can all relate to: burnout.

I was asked what intraneters can do to relieve the stress associated with the daily grind of managing a corporate intranet, or in some cases a global extranet. There are so many variables associated with intranets—many of which are beyond our direct control since intranets involve the participation of multiple disparate teams. To add to the mix, all of these groups have their own set of specific requirements and, more often that not, have their own interests and objectives at heart. It's not hard to understand how some people can feel the pressures of having to keep all of this together. So, here are some things I learned from the trenches of working on a large corporate intranet:

Work to live, don't live to work

Remember the "world's collide" theory from Seinfeld? It simply means you should keep two separate and distinct lives separate. If you're constantly in work mode wherever you go, you'll never fully enjoy anything you do. And this problem is heightened with the persistent connectivity provided by portable devices such as the Blackberry. This need to be constantly plugged into the office is a fabrication. Unless lives are at stake, learn to unplug yourself and leave your work at work.

Get a life

Try to maintain an active life outside work. Don't allow your job, no matter how stressful, to consume your entire life. This means you need to stop taking the office home with you. Admittedly, this isn't easy. Too many people define themselves by what they do, but it's vital to separate your work and personal life or both will suffer. If work is all you have, every little setback or minor hiccup will be magnified tenfold and will creep into what's left of your personal life. You'll wind up sacrificing an outside life—canceling plans with family and friends—for the sake of work. Do this too many times and work will be all you have left. You need to draw a line between the two halves of your life.

Find an outlet

"I've got to go punch the hell out of something..." is a typical comment I got from a high-strung former colleague who was unable to deal with the stress of having to manage a dozen content providers, and editing and validating all their entries. While punching the hell out of something might be a good idea if you're a boxer preparing for a title bout, it's probably best to find a more productive way of releasing your stress. Try running, cycling, yoga, meditation, tai chi, shooting hoops; anything to get your mind off work.

Most people find physical activity—especially within a group setting—more effective than sitting still or being active alone because they're not used to slowing their mind down. In the silence they'll probably end up obsessing over their troubles. Physical activity is also proven to increase the levels of serotonin in the brain, a chemical known to combat aggression, anger, and depression. The important thing is not to indulge in activities that can lead to obsessive or addictive behaviors such as gambling or drinking. This will create a whole slew of other more severe problems.

Take a vacation

Working non-stop over a long period of time is probably the biggest contributing factor to worker burnout. Even machines need some time to recharge or cool down. You're given vacation days for a reason, so take them. Don't worry, the world's not going to end if you do. You're not standing guard over a big red button marked KA-BOOM. As long as you don't take your vacation during important dates such as system roll-out, the company will be fine without you for a week or two.

Stop chasing the carrot

The pressures of having to keep up with the fast pace of technology, work, information, and even your colleagues can cause a lot of unnecessary stress. The good news is that it's largely a self-inflicted problem and entirely preventable. Going against popular business belief, and possibly raising the ire of some buzzword-wielding management types, I'm going to give two important pieces of advice here: Firstly, realize that you can't do it all; secondly, multitasking is absolute bunk.

The do-it-all and multitasking mentality is a myth perpetrated on an individual to try to get a single person to accomplish the work of three—without the salary. The human mind isn't wired to carry out multiple complex tasks simultaneously. The more you try to do concurrently, the lower the attention given to each individual task. You end up racing to get more done only to discover that you've actually accomplished very little.

Learn to delegate

Many eager beavers have a Superman complex, believing that saying "no" and delegating work to, or accepting help from, colleagues is a sign of weakness. As a result, they try to save the world by taking on everything that comes their way with little thought as to whether they can actually do it or not. They hoard work to place their mark on it, to get recognition, and to show their bosses that they're the "go-to guy or gal". But when their schedule is so tight that a sneeze could set them back, they place a lot of undue pressure and stress on themselves.

Quit worrying about things beyond your control

I read a very apt and pithy saying a long time ago: "Worrying is like a rocking chair; it gives you something to do, but it doesn't get you anywhere." Throughout your professional life, you're going to experience some things that are totally beyond your control such as organizational restructuring. While it's human nature to worry about these sorts of things, try to realize that worrying or obsessing about these situations will not change the outcome of these situations. Your work and personal life will simply suffer as a result of the "rocking".

Closing Thoughts

Personal health is often spoken of as a footnote—if at all. Employees are driven to the brink of burnout and required to deal with the stress of their bosses' expectations on their own time—what little of it they have. And when they're unable to cope, they're chastised for not being able to perform their duties. Unfortunately, these conditions are considered the norm. Although the prevailing mentality of today's business environment is productivity at all costs, when this productivity comes at the expense of those charged with achieving it, we're doing more harm than good.


Copyright © 2007 Paul Chin. All rights reserved.
Reproduction of this article in whole or part in any form without prior written permission of Paul Chin is prohibited.