Hungry and inspired. It’s a good way to start an ambitious task, but whether you’re launching a start-up or trying to impress the boss, stretching yourself beyond your physical and mental means could have diminishing returns.
In his episode of the Tough Thing First podcast, Ray Zinn explores the signs of burnout.
Rob Artigo: Welcome to this edition of the Tough Things First podcast. I’m your guest host, Rob Artigo. I’m a writer and entrepreneur in California. Hi, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Hello, Rob. It’s so good to have you back on with me.
Rob Artigo: It’s good to be here, too, and we love these podcasts, and it’s always good to spend a few minutes with you, just chatting through some of these important issues involving entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship in our company. So one of the famous quotes that we include at the intro of this show … The listeners just heard it, and you remember this: “If you think you have to work 80 hours a week to be a success, you’re dead wrong.” You recall that quote?
Ray Zinn: Yeah, yes, yes.
Rob Artigo: In Silicon valley and the tech industry culture as a whole, it seems like that challenges the statement. Sort of the general idea that you get on the job and you go, go, go, go, go, and you’ve got to work harder than everybody else. You’ve got to work all the time. You got to show that you’re doing all this hard work and you’re just working 24 hours a day, more than 80 hours a week, or whatever the case may be.
But unfortunately, oftentimes, that works fine at the beginning, but then eventually, you run into burnout. You have employees, or even yourself. You hit a wall, and you end up collapsing, and you end up being less effective, not more effective, by behaving that way. So let’s talk a little bit about that. First, recognizing the employee who is headed for burnout, and then what we, as entrepreneurs, need to do to recognize if we’re doing it ourselves and headed towards a burnout.
So first, what are some of the experiences you’ve had with employees in these circumstances? And what are some of the signs that they’re going in a direction that is counterproductive?
Ray Zinn: Well, let’s first define the word burnout. So what, in your mind, is burnout, Rob?
Rob Artigo: I think it’s when physically, emotionally, and mentally, you hit a wall. Kind of like the marathon situation, where runners, marathoners, are trained to hit that wall and then continue past it. But workers … And if you have a work cycle where you are working constantly, 24 hours a day, it seems like, and you’re not getting enough sleep, you’re not getting exercise, you’re not eating right, you’re not taking in the proper amount of fluids. All because you’re focused on essentially, obsessively, on a particular task or something, in order to prove your value, to prove your worth, or otherwise, just trying to be productive, to show that you’re better than everybody else. I don’t know. A goal.
But then you end up hitting that wall, and you can’t get past the wall, and you end up failing. That’s what I think of burnout.
Ray Zinn: Okay, well, let’s look at what can cause burnout. Burnout can be caused by many things other than employment. Burnout can be caused … It’s an emotional problem that can be caused by a problem in the family, health. It could be environmental. There’s a number of things that can relate to burnout. For example, if your company’s not doing well. So burnout is more of an attribute of a bad situation, whether it’s home or whether it’s health or whether it’s any other type of external problem, other than just your personal work environment.
I’ve experienced this, when I lost my eyesight, back in ’94. In 1994, I experienced burnout, but it wasn’t burnout because I was working too long. It was burnout because I lost hope. I just was saying, “Hey, I’m done for.” Or it could be your spouse just handed you a divorce notice. Or it could be you just learned that one of your children had a significant health problem, or maybe a death in the family. So burnout is more than just a work-related problem. So since you’re talking about work-related, it’s hard to bifurcate that, because depending upon how solid your personal environment is, will also determine your level of burnout.
Now, and what I like to think of is controlling your work environment, so that it doesn’t cause problems at home or your health or other factors. And so if you’re highly successful, if you really love and enjoy what you’re doing, that can cause family problems. We know that divorce rate among CEOs or high-level executives is much higher than it is with the working class, or the people who are not as high up in the organization. And a reason is because the CEO or the high-level executive is spending way too much time at work. He loves it. Maybe he’s got some pressure from the board, or maybe he’s got another person at work that he likes to be around. And so he just spends a lot of time doing non-productive things, as you would at work.
So if you look at that, there’s three things that a CEO must do. Okay, so let’s talk about … Or high-level executive. Number one, you must have a good culture, which means the proper environment at the company. And we know at Micrel, my cultures were honesty, integrity, respect, and dignity for every individual. And then doing whatever it takes, no excuses. So you have to have a good culture.
The second thing is you must hire good people. And if you hire the wrong people, of course, you’re going to end up with a separate kind of problem.
And the third thing is that you must take ownership for the company’s operations and its success.
So those are the three things. All the rest of them are superfluous, as a high-level executive or a CEO. So let’s not blame everything on just, “Somebody’s working 24/7.” We’ve got to find out: Why is that person working 24/7? I’ve had employees say because they just didn’t want to go home. They enjoyed being at work more than they liked being at home. And they had another reason for staying at work, which is not good, which is they found somebody at work that they liked to be around. And so when you dig in to find out why is that person spending so much time at work, you’re finding out that it’s really not because it’s work-related. It’s because there are other factors.
So I’d say that probably less than 10% of the time, when I’ve looked into people who are working excessive hours, that it was really blamed on work itself. Or on the demands of work, I should say. So I have many, many examples, Rob, of people who are spending a lot of time at work, but they are not doing work. In other words, it’s not work-related. Now, that’s not to mean that there aren’t some. I mean, as I said, 10% of them are work-related, and I’ve had to caution them about, “Hey, you need to spend more time with your family. You need to take care of your health. You can’t be working 24/7.”
And so sometimes, it has happened where an employee, because of a deadline, for a few days, or maybe even a week, will be putting in excess time. But then after that, I tell them, “Hey, you got to take some time off. You got to stay home.” Or I try to encourage them to try to decompress, as you would. People call it recharging their battery. That’s another one that I’ve heard. “Oh, I got to go recharge my batteries.” But that even includes people who are not putting a lot of time in at work. They just want to get away from work. They just need to decompress or recharge.
So there’s no panacea. There’s no one single thing that you can put your finger on and say, “Oh, yeah, this is the reason why this person’s had burnout.” As we’ve talked about at the beginning of our podcast, burnout can be caused just because you got something stressful in your life, whether it be a health issue, whether it be a family issue. It could be just that you’re not having success in your job. Can cause burnout.
I noticed that sometimes, when employees don’t come into work on time, don’t come in at normal time, or when they leave early, that’s a form of burnout. They just don’t like their job, or maybe they’re looking for another job.
Rob Artigo: Yeah, I keep going back to thinking about this quote: “If you think you have to work 80 hours a week to be a success, you’re dead wrong.” And when I think of that, I think of obviously, the people who are spending all their time at work and neglecting every other aspect of their lives. And they think that’s the key to success. And I think that what you’re saying is that it can be important to success to pour yourself into something for a short period of time, in a short burst period. But over time, if you were to do that, if you were to try to do that, and you’re not some kind of special savant-type person, the Elon Musks of the world, these guys who just seem like they’re always on the job, no matter what it is that they’re doing. Those kinds of people, those are rare types of people.
You have the other kinds of people who probably need to take a break after putting in 80 hours a week. You need to start to recharge your batteries, because that is an important term, because it’s accurate.
Ray Zinn: Well, it’s the ego. You’re in love with your job, not in love with your family. And so those who are in love with their family will spend more time with their family. Being in love with your job is okay, but not at deference with your family. It’s not a matter of how long you work; it’s how well you work.
I have a little company that I’m head of. I’m an investor, and a major investor. And culturally, they think, because they’re in Silicon valley and they’re high-level executives, that they need to work around the clock, just to show their family that they’re working their tail off, and that they’re really trying to make the company a success. Now, in this case, the company’s not doing all that well, and so they feel they have to keep working harder and harder and harder to make it successful. And if you have to work that hard to make your company a success, there’s something else wrong. And you need to find out what is wrong, fundamentally, with the company, such that you’re having to work all those hours, in your mind, anyway, to make it successful.
Rob Artigo: Is that when you take a step back and sit down and get up in the morning, take a couple of hours just to have a cup of coffee or a cup of tea or something? And do a top-down evaluation or a bottom-up evaluation? In your mind, just sort of sit there and think through the scenarios that you’re dealing with and figure out? Because if I’m working a business and I want it to be a success, and many people who have successful businesses worked really hard to make it happen.
But if I’m working really, really hard, and I feel like I’m getting ready for a nosedive, physically and mentally. And the burnout point comes up when we’re dealing with business leadership. If I’m facing that kind of situation, I need to look at these things and figure out, “Is there something I need to change? Or do I just need to hand it off to somebody else and go on and do something else?”
Ray Zinn: Well, again, it depends upon how successful you are in your company. If your company’s not doing well, or if you’re a startup, you tend to think you got to work all those hours. But let me tell you that that’s not true. You should be able to run a successful company or bring your company to a successful point without having to work 80 hours a week. And because I proved that. I ran my Micrel for 37 years, and we were profitable every single year, except for one year out of 37.
So you can do it, but you have to have that mindset to say that, “If I can’t run this company successfully within let’s say 40 hours or maybe 50 hours, at the most, a week, then there’s something fundamentally wrong with the mission of the company.”
Rob Artigo: Well, there you go. The bottom line is, you have to be acutely aware of what’s going on with you at home, at work, physically and mentally, so that you can figure out if you’re facing one of these scenarios that could lead, potentially, to burnout and ultimately, to failure. You want to be a success. You want to do it and be happy about it. You want to do it and be comfortable at work. It’s an important … It’s a holistic approach to making sure that you’re healthy and the company is healthy, at the same time. And that’s kind of the key to success.
Ray Zinn: Usually, when a company is not healthy, the employees are not healthy, or at least the leadership is not healthy. So that’s a clue. If you’re not healthy, look at your company. Probably, you’re not running a very healthy company.
Rob Artigo: Well, as always, you can reach out to Ray Zinn with your questions at toughthingsfirst.com. Continue your education and the conversation, like the one we’re having here, with all the podcasts, blogs, and links to information about Ray’s books: Tough Things First and The Zen of Zinn. The Zen of Zinn, by the way, is a collection of writings on interrelated topics of entrepreneurship, leadership, management, discipline, determination, society, people, and life, which is something we also cover here, as well as being entrepreneurs on the Tough Things First podcast. So that book is the Zen of Zinn. Go out and pick it up wherever books are sold. Thanks again, Ray.
Ray Zinn: Hey, thanks, Rob. Good podcast.