Why meetings, email, and 'excessive collaboration' are the unholy trinity of burnout

Why meetings, email, and 'excessive collaboration' are the unholy trinity of burnout

burnout tired work office

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Workplace productivity has only risen by 1-2% since the tech boom.


Burnout is on the rise among workers everywhere, and excessive collaboration is to blame.

Excessive collaboration is when workers become bogged down by frequent meetings, conference calls, emails, and instant messaging to the point where they feel exhausted or overwhelmed.

It's also part of why an estimated $37 billion is lost every year to unproductive meetings.

While collaboration is productive, too much of it can have the opposite effect, says Eric Garton, co-author of "Time, Talent and Energy" and a partner at Bain & Company.According to Garton in the Harvard Business Review, burnout - exhaustion caused by chronic workplace stress - is inevitable under these circumstances.


The World Health Organization recently classified burnout as a clinical syndrome, further legitimizing the condition after psychologists spent 40 years studying its causes and effects. According to the WHO, symptoms include "feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion," "increased mental distance from one's job," and "reduced professional efficacy."

Because of modern workplace technology, such as email, instant messaging, and other work-related productivity apps, the average supervisor spends eight hours a workweek - the equivalent of a full work day - on electronic communication alone.

These often unnecessary activities "not only rob employees of time to concentrate on completing complex tasks or for idea generation," observes Garton in HBR, "they also crunch the downtime that is necessary for restoration."

Since the tech boom, workplace productivity has only risen by 1-2%, far less than experts first thought.

In-person meetings, however, tend to be just as time-consuming and unproductive. 11 million meetings happen in America every day, but a third of them are unproductive. This is in part because coworkers don't want to exclude one another, inviting people who aren't necessarily vital to the project at hand.


Those who do contribute a lot of value run the risk of being punished for their competence. When managers pile on tasks for the most capable members of the team, overload ensues.

"The best people are the ones whose knowledge is most in demand," Garton writes.

What you can do

To combat excessive collaboration, start by having fewer meetings, and inviting fewer employees to those meetings.

By only bringing along key team members, you'll save others from being overloaded and burning out. Those employees will have more time to finish their most important tasks, and take breaks if they need breathing room.

Ultimately, when people have time to do the actual work -- rather than talk about the work -- the organization will be more productive, profitable, and its employees are at less risk of burning out.