I’ve been hanging out recently with two types of people: 1) exhausted corporate workers whose jobs/lives feel like constant firefighting, and 2) actual firefighters.
Based on my purely anecdotal observations, it seems like the latter group has a lower #burnout rate than the former. Which is insane.
Here are some things I’ve learned about how actual #firefighters work. Maybe the rest of us can copy some of these lessons into the corporate world to make our lives a bit more sustainable.
- Firefighters know they’re signing up for a very intense, interrupt-driven work model. Constant emergencies are what everyone expects and plans for every day. They bought in because of, not in spite of, the worst-case intensity of the job.
Lesson for corporate: Don’t sugarcoat what the job actually demands. Be realistic and let folks who genuinely are into that self-select.
- There is no expectation that other “nice-to-have” work should get done if the day gets busy with 911 calls.
Lesson for corporate: Acknowledge that, if your organization prioritizes chaos and emergencies, you will have to let go of the “important-but-not-urgent” stuff. Don’t try to guilt trip people into working at 200% capacity to fit all the things into a day just because your business didn’t adequately resource.
- Firefighters’ “emergencies” are actual emergencies.
Lesson for corporate: Don’t stir up panic amongst your employees as a go-to motivational strategy for every little project. People will start to question why it always feels like the sky is falling, when your only mission is to sell more widgets. This disconnect prompts crises of meaning.
- They ruthlessly prioritize sleep and fitness. They nap unapologetically at every available moment, and get paid to exercise.
Lesson for…everyone, really: If your job/life are demanding, prioritizing your body’s needs is not optional. Feeling guilty or selfish about that helps no one and only delays the inevitable.
- They have immediate, tangible feedback about – and closure on – the impact of their work.
Lesson for corporate: Shorten the distance between abstract, long-range projects and the ultimate impact it delivers. Scope work in a way that allows for regular, short term wins and small moments of feeling closure throughout big initiatives.
TLDR: Be realistic. No guilt trips. Less panic. Prioritize physical well being. Create frequent moments of accomplishment and closure.
Does this resonate? Any of these lessons sound relevant to reducing burnout and exhaustion in your job?