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I have noticed a common trait of people who are living with Burnout. That being, they are quick to blame themselves for not working hard enough.

I often hear statements like

  • I should be doing more
  • I just need to work harder
  • If I was a better people leader then this wouldn’t be happening


Working harder isn’t the problem.  I can assure you I have yet to meet someone who is living with Burnout who doesn’t know how to work hard!

I found a survey, back in 2003 and it showed that a third of full-time employees work more than 48 hours a week.

When we break this down

  • this equates to 9.6 hours a day, 5 days a week or 8 hours a day, 6 days per week.
  • when we work 48 hours a week, that equates to 206.4 hours per month
  • and if we take 4 weeks annual leave a year, then in 11 months of a year we have worked a whopping 2270.40 hours.

I compared this to another study that I found. This one is not quite as old; it was examining British athletes preparing for the 2012 Olympic Games.   What this study identified is that British Athletes were preparing

  • by training 6 hours a day, 6 days a week
  • a grand total of 36 hours per week
  • equating to 154.8 hours a month
  • even if they did this right for 12 months, that’s still only 1857.60 hours in a year

In summary then


We know how to work hard.   And if you are wondering why I am comparing you to an Olympic athlete rest assured we are getting there.

The working harder mentality however is a major contributor to the Burnout problem.  You see we tend to ask increasingly more of ourselves with less resources; like time, energy and people.  For example, we might ask ourselves to do an extra 10% in 2017, then another 15% in 2018, and right now we have asked ourselves to do another 20% in 2019.  Simple math’s tells us in the past three years we have asked ourselves to do another 45% more.  My expectation is that “scope creep” or increased load limit has not been met with corresponding increases in resources, except maybe an increased pay packet.


Yet we somehow expect that this increased load will not have any effect.  In fact, we are surprised when it does.


When a bridge has a load limit, we expect people to take notice of it right?  If a vehicle with more than that load limit tried to cross that bridge, we expect that the bridge will experience structural damage.  Or cease to be a bridge.  However, for some reason we think when we add more load – this being physical, cognitive or emotional load, we somehow expect that we will just work harder to work it out.  We will just add more load to fix the problem.  Can you see how ineffective and downright dangerous this approach is?

When an athlete is training for the Olympic games, they are not working as hard as we do in terms of time, duration and expectation as most average workers are. We expect that we can sustain peak performance while adding more to our already over full capacity without it having any effect.  Elite athletes know exactly what their bodies are capable of and exactly what they need to be doing to build their capacity. They also know the need for rest, and the risk of over-training.  For some reason, this same mindset does not apply to us as people in the world of work and enterprise.  

It’s time for a different conversation around Burnout.  If you are expecting yourself to do more with less, then it is time to re-examine if you are fit for purpose. Which is a completely different conversation than simply working harder don’t you think?


What do I mean by fit for purpose?  Simply put fit for purpose means that a person or resource or institution is well equipped or well suited for its designated role or purpose.   If you are wanting to dig a hole in the ground, you use a shovel right – the shovel is fit for the purpose of digging a hole.  If you need to grind coffee beans you will use a coffee grinder as it is fit for the purpose of grinding coffee.  You would not engage a shovel to grind coffee beans.

So often what I am seeing, hearing and yes, experiencing, is that we stop examining our fitness for purpose and simply get caught up in the whirlwind of if I just work harder then everything will be OK.


I am not about to start talking to you about nutrition, exercise and sleep.  Although these are the building blocks of wellness, and if they aren’t working, nothing will work very well for long.

What I am speaking to here is our

Capacity             the maximum amount that we can produce or contain

Capability          the power or ability to do something


Our capacity is the ability that exists in the present, whilst capability refers to a higher level of ability that could be demonstrated under the right conditions.

If you have ambitions to move from a senior management role into a C-Suite role, then you need to grow your capability because your capacity right now is that of senior manager.

If you are in the start-up phase of a new business, then you need to grow your capability because your capacity right now is limited to what you know today.

For those of us who have graduated from start-up into business as usual, we are at greater risk because we just keeping adding more stuff to do into our world without examining if we are fit for purpose.


Let me share with you a very personal experience.  I started my consulting company as a Rehabilitation Counsellor.  I was essentially a technician in my business.  As my business grew, I added people management (marketing, sales, coaching, business development, IT, operations and financial management) to my expectations list.  I did not grow my capability!  I simply added these things to my already very full capacity (that I had filled up with clients) and expected they would fit without having any impact on me, on my clinical work, or on the potential for business growth.

WRONG, WRONG, WRONG. In short, I was no longer fit for purpose.

I was actually very tired, very stressed (highly agitated, annoying, irritable), and pretty much addicted to all things working harder.

It has taken me until my 10th year in business to recognise I am the CEO of this company.  When I examined my workload and the expectations of myself, and most importantly what it is the business needs from me (it does not need me to be the full time Rehabilitation Counsellor any more), it was clear to see that capability expectations of this business have changed; and it’s my responsibility to change my own capabilities and with it my own capacity.

I am still a human with thoughts feelings and behaviours.  I still have 24 hours in any one day just like you.  However, who I need to be has changed, and the actions I need to fulfill every day to fill my capacity have changed.

This is how I have apprehended a very long association with Burning out.

You are good enough, you just need to engage yourself in a different conversation.  That being, are you still fit for purpose?


Here’s are a couple of questions to get your started

  1. What are you doing in your work now that you weren’t doing 12 months ago?
  2. How did you learn to do this new thing?
  3. Have you experienced a head count reduction to your team or business without any adjustment to revenue, productivity or earnings?
  4. Write a list of all the tools and resources you think you need to be able to execute your role with excellence.
  5. When was the last time you said No, or not now?



If you have read this article today and it has triggered you, or you realise that you need help, please take action now.  Don’t leave this article thinking that this doesn’t apply to you.  Call a trusted friend; reach out to your GP or to a health professional.  Maybe you and I need to talk? Please don’t ignore this.  The world needs what you have to offer.


Who is Jo Muirhead?

Jo Muirhead

Content contributor


Jo is passionate about helping people make work, work well.  Jo is an engaging speaker, coach and the founder of PurpleCo a team of specialized allied health professionals who help people reclaim their lives and return to work following injury, illness and trauma.   Jo is also the author of the book The Entrepreneurial Clinician.


How to contact Jo:

+61 414 276 265

Instagram jo_muirhead



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