Working in a performance orientated world – On the way from permanent stress to emotional exhaustion?

Globalization, digitalization, and re-organization: keywords in everyday work. Everything has to be fast, cost efficient, flexible and different. A continually accelerating change characterizes the labour market. Modern communication and information technologies drive the society. What is the result? A highly performance-orientated society. What you learned yesterday will be obsolete tomorrow. This fast-paced culture pushes us to achieve results even at the cost of our health and well-being. Performance reviews at the end of the year drive that system as well. We are led to compete with our co-workers and also with technology. No wonder we want to continually improve our performance, either to make a great career, to keep our job or for our own satisfaction.

By definition, performance orientation reflects the extent to which a community encourages and rewards innovation, high standards, excellence, and performance improvement. High performance orientated societies and companies value training and development, and competitiveness. They view a formal feedback process as necessary for performance improvement and establishes the value for what one does. The communication style is usually very direct and explicit.

What effects does this have on us as individuals? Does it allow personal freedom at work, encourages personal development and promotes individualism at the work place? Or does it lead to the increasing loss of security in an increasingly unsteady work context? Does it start to cause stress, uncertainty and lead to emotional exhaustion?

Many employees see their work as a duty and feel mentally and physically overwhelmed. Extrinsic incentives (salary, vacation) dominate the inner motivation. Colleagues are often seen as stumbling blocks and rivals. However, on the surface, the ability to work in a team is valued. The workaholic is a “good” role model for juniors and new joiners in such a working environment. Working late into the night deserves respect and appreciation. Many people have learned to suppress emotions such as excessive demands, fear, powerlessness and anger in the workplace.

Emotional exhaustion can arise when someone experiences a period of excessive stress in their work or personal life. The risk of emotional exhaustion increases for anyone who works in a job they dislike, has a poor job fit, works long hours, or feels a lack of control at work or if they may not be correctly balancing self-care with life’s demands. Those in demanding or stressful jobs are more likely to experience emotional exhaustion and burnout, compared to others. Other triggers could be significant life changes, such as, divorce or death of a loved one, financial distress, excessive multitasking, e.g. work, family, and school, working long hours, and working in a high-pressure environment.

When people experience emotional exhaustion, it can make them feel emotionally drained, overwhelmed and fatigued. These feelings tend to build up over a long period. People may not notice the early warning signs. It can have wide-ranging effects on a person’s physical and mental health, career, and relationships with others.

An alarming number of people experience stress, emotional exhaustion and burnouts. This number will continue to increase. While there are companies that understand the dangers of stress, exhaustion and burnout, and implement preventive actions, you have to take responsibility for yourself.

How can you take action? The way to handle it, is to create a lifestyle that allows you to sustain these high demands, while allowing you to recover: a kind of performance lifestyle! To reduce emotional exhaustion, you need to make lifestyle changes.

The underlying problem is that many people associate performance only to pushing themselves to great extends instead of as a combination of sustainability, happiness, and outcome. A performance lifestyle means living to the fullest of your potential. When you are not happy, you will simply not deliver the results expected.

So looking out for and recognizing the symptoms of emotional exhaustion in yourself and others, are necessary to start taking steps toward feeling better. Typical common symptoms are changing moods, like, being more cynical, pessimistic, less motivated to work or socialize. You may experience changes in thinking and memory, which is called “brain fog” as a symptom. Another typical symptom is that it can be challenging to maintain a regular sleep pattern. Emotional exhaustion can affect your relationships and your ability to function in your home and workplace. This could be seen in reduced ability to connect with others on a personal or emotional level, increased absences from work, a lack of enthusiasm in work and personal life, missed deadlines, poor work performance, and low self-esteem.

Where possible, you should try to reduce sources of stress. You may be able to take on fewer tasks, delegate to others, and ask for help. You could also consider moving to a different role or organization, if work is a significant source of your stress. Living a healthful life can improve physical and mental health, foster resilience and maintain a good work-life balance. Practicing mindfulness as a daily routine could also help. Social disconnection is both a symptom of and a risk factor for emotional exhaustion, hence try to connect with others whenever possible.

Changing directions of your thoughts can also alter your moods and behaviours. These could include
– focusing on what is going right in life rather than what is not,
– replacing negative thoughts with more positive or realistic ones,
– avoiding comparisons with others,
– accepting that sometimes negative feelings occur and not fighting them,
– staying in the present rather than focusing on the past, and
– avoid anticipating the future.

Revealing emotions is not a weakness! It is important to balance distance and control with emotional intelligence. Leaving the level of rationality for a moment and acknowledging that we all make an important contribution, both personally and commercially and also admitting that we are currently confronted with a lot of stress, is a good starting point. Such an open and communicative climate, ensures honesty, satisfaction and strengthens intrinsic motivation. These small changes can have a big impact on physical and emotional well-being.

Anyone who feels insecure at work, perceives work as unfree time. This leads to a strict separation of “work” and “life”. Ideally we experience personal satisfaction from our work and perceive it as part of “life”. One thing is key: the quality of our life! Fears have to be acknowledged, affirmed and dealt with. Performance is not only about the results, it is also about sustainability, happiness, and fulfillment.

As a member of our website Break Your Pattern, you will be able to join our Expert Exchange Web Session on “Feeling exhausted” and explore our online training offerings around stress management and work-life balance. You could also look to find a professional coach on our website, for personal expert support to work with on your lifestyle changes and on some stress reduction methods.