Last Word

Rick Bell

Workforce's Last Word author, Rick Bell.

Burnout Is No Fairy Tale

Burnout Is No Fairy Tale

O

nce upon a time there was a king who ruled over his subjects in the land of Conscientiousness. This king was extremely concerned about his subjects’ safety and serenity. But as you can imagine, ruling over a kingdom like Conscientiousness came with great responsibility.

So dependable and conscientious was our king that every morning he would rise before dawn, enter the Chamber of Contentment, rub his hands with perseverance powder from the Mines of Meticulousness and dutifully crank the Lever of Loyalty so that the sun would rise.

No matter how conscientious we are, no one — king, subject or perfidious prince — is immune from the dangers of sinking into Burnout Bog.

The king would then toddle off and tend to the kingdom’s business. As evening neared, the king would drop his debate with the Duke of Diligence or reschedule a rap with the Regents of Respect, hop off the Throne of Thoroughness and scurry back to the Chamber of Contentment, rub his hands with perseverance powder from the Mines of Meticulousness and dutifully crank the Lever of Loyalty — this time assuring that the sun would set.

Dawn and dusk. Day after day. Week after week. Month after month. Year after year. Decade after … well, you get the picture. This was indeed one devoted leader.

Being as conscientious as he was, the king never took a vacation. In fact, he never took a day off. The king knew the exact amount of time it would take to return from Fidelity Forest or Allegiance Archipelago in order to turn the lever.

On one such journey to Steadfast Shoals the king became separated from his vanguard. He was nearing a part of the kingdom that few dared enter. Evening was nigh.

Despite the king’s best efforts to steer his steed named Staunchly back home, the king found himself entering the Edge of Exhaustion. A fork in the road offered little hope. The king was immediately overcome by a degree of dread.

A weather-beaten wooden sign pointed one way. The king strained to see the worn-down words, finally making out the destination: Weary Wilderness. The other weathered sign was even more ominous. The king now bordered Burnout Bog.

The king had heard hushed talk for years among his subjects of Burnout Bog but never gave it a second thought. The king considered it a myth, a fable concocted by a perfidious prince he locked in the Tower of Treachery for his propagandizing.

As the king gazed across Burnout Bog he fell into a funk of fatigue. His appetite waned, his eyes drooped and his mind went blank. The king stared at the sign, astonished to realize that Burnout Bog was not just a far-flung destination for the weak and tired.

“Such a place truly exists!” he muttered, realizing that the most dedicated and loyal ruler the Kingdom of Consciousness had ever known could find himself at the Edge of Exhaustion, wandering in the Weary Wilderness and blundering through Burnout Bog.

As darkness fell, the king’s dread melted into resignation, since he would not crank the Lever of Loyalty that evening. Dejected, he slid off Staunchly, sat under a tree and slipped into a deep sleep.

The king awoke the next morning to the voices of his vanguard. As they approached he realized that not only did he not crank the handle to make the sun set, he did not crank it to make the sun rise. Yet the sun had risen and set without him turning any handle. The king then knew he had to change.

Upon returning to his castle he immediately released the perfidious prince from the Tower of Treachery only to learn that the Overworked Ailment Centre was at capacity since so many loyal subjects were emulating their ruler’s routine. The king praised the prince and began preaching the perils of Burnout Bog and the highlights of Holiday Highlands.

The king continued to crank the handle morning and night because, well, old habits die hard for conscientious leaders. But he slowly discovered new, relaxing ways to occupy his mornings and evenings. He took a day off, then two days and ventured on his first-ever trip to Vacation Valley, where … yes … he looked in the Pond of Self-reflection and meandered up and down Mindful Mountain.

The moral of our tale? That morally as employers, managers, supervisors and employees we understand that burnout is no myth. In late May the World Health Organization labeled burnout as a legitimate workplace medical diagnosis. No matter how conscientious we are, no one — king, subject or perfidious prince — is immune from the dangers of sinking into Burnout Bog.

Keep cranking the lever. It’s cool to be like our king. Just know that the sun will rise and set whether or not you’re turning that lever.


Rick Bell is Workforce‘s editorial director. To comment, email editors@workforce.com.