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The value of exhaustion: A task for the inspirational manager


Tired employeeAre your employees looking a little tired at work? It could be a classic sign of boredom, which is a key indicator of the need for change, says Judith Leary-Joyce, who explains that managers need to be able to spot this or risk the person looking elsewhere.

John was exhausted, dragging himself to and from work each day. Not sure what was wrong he kept going, knowing he wasn’t doing his best work, but unable to do anything about it. More sleep, visits to the GP and eating healthy food helped, but still the dragging persisted. Until one day he realised, ennui had set in – he was just bored out of his mind!

Once the possibility of poor health has been cleared, out-of-character behaviour such as exhaustion, irritation or withdrawal all indicate a lack of engagement. There are two major reasons for this happening:

1. Fear and trepidation

“Once the possibility of poor health has been cleared, out-of-character behaviour such as exhaustion, irritation or withdrawal all indicate a lack of engagement.”

In times of confusion and uncertainty – like the credit crunch – people will lose focus on the day-to-day task. Survival becomes the major issue and it is all too easy for the mind to drift away into ‘what if’s’ and disaster scenarios. Of course organisations are also on survival mode, so demands and expectations are high. The pressure is on from all sides.

At this point sensible people will knuckle down and give their best effort to the work at hand. This is the obvious way to ensure their name is top of the list marked, ‘those we must keep’. But to do this, they have to suppress anxiety about mortgage, family and home, which has an inevitable cost.

When thoughts and feelings become troublesome, we ‘depress’ them – push them away into corners of the mind and body where they will be less distracting – on the surface anyway. In fact, holding down worries and concerns take a huge amount of energy. Just imagine it: working hard all day to deliver to the highest levels, doing all you can to add value in a tough business environment, returning home to pay ever increasing bills, hoping that the money will keep coming in, retiring to a night of troubled sleep, then going back to work to act as if nothing is happening. Managing all that is exhausting.

2. The approach of a life opportunity

High-performing people will always give 110% to the work at hand and, if they are in the right job, they’ll love every minute of it. Equally, if they are real high performers, they will hit times when the challenge is not enough and they are ready to move on to something new and more exciting – but they won’t always know this is what’s happening.

“Holding down worries and concerns take a huge amount of energy.”

The impasse or ‘slough of despond’ is a key turning point for serial achievers, those who continue to go from strength to strength in their lives. It is marked by restlessness and frustration, resulting in exhaustion and the message is – ‘my energy has gone out of this work, I have learned all I can’.

Unfortunately the message is not always obvious, because by its very nature, impasse drains the life force. So it can take time and support to find a way out of the dead end. Meanwhile the ennui and confusion reign supreme, which is frustrating for everyone.

Enter the inspirational manager

For a manager with results to deliver, both aspects can be a supreme irritation. Just when you need your people to focus, they are lethargic and slow. How easy then to assume that they are ‘swinging the lead’ and become disagreeable in return.

This is when inspirational managers come into their own. Having built strong relationships with their direct reports they will be quick to spot problems. When people are realistically concerned about the future, the manager will take time to talk and either allay their fears or tell them they are right to worry and support them through the uncertainty.

Inspirational managers are also quick to spot restlessness. The management of high performers is high on their list of priorities, so they will be alert to the first suggestion of a problem. Knowing that these are the managers and leaders of the future, they will already be on the lookout for opportunities to bring the sparkle back to life and add real benefit to the business.

“Inspirational managers know their job is to get the best from the people who work for them and they do this by building robust relationships and high levels of trust.”

Inspirational managers know their job is to get the best from the people who work for them and they do this by building robust relationships and high levels of trust. When this is in place the tell tale signs of concern or opportunity are positive and constructive for individuals and the business. Without this quality of management, opportunities remain problems. The fearful remain withdrawn and confused, underperforming as a result and as soon as high performers understand what is going on, they will be looking for the first opportunity to walk out of the door.

And John? He sat down to talk with his manager. Together they worked out what the problem was and began to look for an interesting solution. Immediately, John felt his energy returning. Now he didn’t need to ‘hold down’ his energy; he was focused, excited and back on the high-performing route. No longer sleeping at every opportunity, he worked long hours and delivered great results.

So never assume that exhaustion equals laziness. Rule out the health factors, then explore where the energy is going. Redirect it, and performance will return in spades.

Reader offer! has two copies of Judith Leary-Joyce’s book, ‘Inspirational Manager’ to give away. For your chance to win a copy, simply email <a href="mailto:[email protected]?subject=Judith Leary-Joyce book offer" [email protected] by 5pm on Friday 21 November and please include your postal address in the email. The first two people to be drawn will each win a copy. Good luck!

Judith Leary-Joyce is CEO of Great Companies Consulting.

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