National Coordinator Blog Post #11 – Burnout


What is burnout?

Burnout is a type of psychological stress. Occupational burnout or job burnout is characterized by exhaustion, lack of enthusiasm and motivation, feelings of ineffectiveness, and also may have the dimension of frustration or cynicism, and as a result reduced efficacy within the workplace.

Many of us in the club have experienced this, all of us know someone who has.  It’s one of the most cited reasons for people leaving positions and it’s something we need to seriously look at before we chew up all the willing people we have.

Intrinsic or extrinsic rewards

There are two basic types of motivation – intrinsic which relates to doing things because we want to do them and extrinsic which relates to doing things for some external reward.  Neither is bad in and of themselves, we all like doing things we like and we all like getting paid for doing things even if we don’t like them.  Studies show that focusing on the extrinsic can start to eat away at our intrinsic motivation, the reward becomes the “why” and we stop focusing on why we wanted to do the thing in the first place.  In some cases the extrinsic becomes the only reason we do something and if we stop caring about that reward as much it doesn’t swing back the other way.  We’ve all known members (or been that member) that took a position all fired up and then gradually started to lose the motivation but they were still receiving prestige so they kind of did the job and then gradually they lost interest in prestige as well.  They didn’t suddenly become self-motivated again, they just stopped doing anything.  If you can’t think of examples of this you haven’t been in the club that long.

But wait there’s hope!!

A completely informal and not at all scientific poll via Facebook showed that many of our position holders do it because they want to do it and a majority of those have held positions for a long term without suffering much, if any, burnout.  Some of them hold (or have held) multiple positions without issue.    Some of them move from position to position but have always done great work in the positions they held.  More than a few took a position because it had to be done and grew to love it.  That is how I ended up being the ST for our local Apocalypse game and have been for three years running.

What’s the difference?

Ask yourself one very simple question – if there was no prestige involved in this position, would I still do it?  I know some positions have other extrinsic motivations (telling a story, being creative etc. etc.) but this is the easiest thing to grasp.  If being an ST/Coordinator/Board Member etc. offered no prestige at all, would you still do it?  If the answer is “no” there’s nothing wrong with that.  As mentioned above, we all like to be rewarded for doing things even if they are things we enjoy.  It does mean to perhaps be a little more cognizant of the signs of burnout – exhaustion, lack of enthusiasm, cynicism, a feeling of being ineffectual in your role, frustration etc.  If you start to recognize these things then look to see if you can recapture the intrinsic reasons for doing the job.  Maybe you just need a little help.  Maybe you need a vacation to refocus – there’s nothing wrong with taking a vacation from volunteer work (note to self – perhaps we could use some sort of mandatory vacation time for volunteers…).  Maybe it’s simply time to step down.

I know, from first hand experience, that you can get to the point with burnout that you simply say “frak it” and walk away.  Recognizing the signs in yourself is an important step to not getting to that extreme.