Burnt Out and Disengaged

“The purpose of life is not to be happy. It is to be useful, to be honourable, to be compassionate, to have it make some difference that you have lived and lived well.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson


Sitting opposite me was a man who had sunk low into depression. Disengaged from his work was an understatement, no-one home would be more to the point.

This is a common occurrence for me as I meet with people in the workplace – managers tell me all the time “Such and such started out with so much promise and then just started sabotaging themselves and I was left scratching my head wondering why!”

So here is my client looking dejected until I asked him “What is it about your work that was giving you this feeling?” He thought for a minute and then stared me straight in the eye and said “What’s the point of it – there is no meaning, what difference does it make to anyone.” There is was his own feelings of lack of fulfilment. This is the greatest cause of disengagement and one that has been misunderstood within the workplace for a very long time. Fulfilment is not about the work we do it is about the meaning that we give to our lives by meeting our intrinsic emotional needs.

I asked what was that he did and he mumbled he was an IT expert for a large company that made air conditioners and humidity cribs amongst other things.

We discussed what would happen if he was no longer there and there was no-one else to take his place. Working on that premise he said “Well the plant would shut down.” By the time we went through all the ramifications of the plant shutting down he began to see that he was a pebble in the pond. Without him an elderly person may die on a day of high heat, a baby may not survive because there wasn’t a humidity crib, suppliers from all over the world would put people out of work because the parts they made were not being bought and the employees families would suffer as a consequence.

One of his greatest intrinsic emotional needs was “purposefulness” but he was projecting outside of himself to have that need met, he was co-dependent on others and situations to give him this. What he had never done was looked at the whole picture of his contribution to the world by just being the best of who his was and expressing himself through his expertise.

Once he caught the vision of this, his whole demeanour changed, he went to work with enthusiasm about who he was and the difference he made and within 6 months he was promoted and began sharing his difference making vision with others. Why? Because he was focusing on him meeting his intrinsic emotional need “purposefulness” himself and work had now become a vehicle through which he could express meaning.