Giving without burning out
Years ago, I wondered if I was burning out with business families. I was used to working hard, managing time, prioritizing efforts, but I was exhausted. I deliberately did not take on more clients; except for urgent cases, most were content to wait.
Before long I realized that even if the workload did not vary, I was not certain if my services had lasting impact on clients. Sibling rivalry, entitled successors, behavioral addictions are often rooted in decades-old dysfunctional parenting, negative family dynamics and low self-worth. Many parents complain about their heirs yet coddle them, younger generations rebel against their elders yet depend on them for financial comfort, siblings accuse each other of unfairness yet do not carry their own weight in the business.
I began choosing clients more wisely. Instead of taking on everyone who asks for help, I initially discuss the situation with them and more than half the time, I end up telling them outright that nothing significant could be done if they refuse to change.
I do not waste time working with feuding families on a constitution I know they will not follow. I do not waste energy on those who complain in private yet pretend things are fine in public. In these cases, I advise clients to dissolve the business and go their separate ways.
Differentiating between people who can and cannot be helped prevents burnout.
“Givers don’t burn out when they devote too much time and energy to giving,” says Wharton professor Adam Grant in his book “Give and Take.”
“They burn out when they’re working with people in need but are unable to help effectively,” he says.
For two weeks, we discussed the importance of being givers, rather than takers or matchers, in business. But givers need to feel that their actions are meaningful in some way. Harnessing a sense of purpose is essential for general mental, emotional and physical wellbeing (see July 2, 2020, column).
Many people mistakenly feel that they burn out if they take on more work. But things are not always that simple.
In a popular study, US high school teachers who felt their jobs were “demanding” reported more burnout. “But upon closer inspection, job stress was only linked to higher burnout for teachers who felt they didn’t make a difference,” says Grant.
“A sense of lasting impact protected against stress, preventing exhaustion.”
In another study, Grant found that philanthropists who gave out of enjoyment or purpose were more motivated than those who acted out of duty or for show. Those who truly cared about others enjoyed giving time, energy and resources more than those, for example, who leveraged donations as photo ops, relegating corporate social responsibility as mere public relations.
However, givers are not martyrs. Compassion has realistic limits.
In a study of business deals, “the best negotiators weren’t takers or selfless givers,” says Grant. “The takers … saw negotiations as zero-sum, win-lose contests and didn’t trust their opponents, so they [did not develop] an understanding of their counterparts’ interests.
“The selfless givers [martyrs] made too many concessions, benefiting their counterparts at a personal cost.
“The most effective … were … [wise givers] who reported high concern for their own interests and high concern for their counterparts’ interests. By looking for opportunities to benefit others and themselves, [they] … identify win-win solutions that [others] miss … By the time they give slices of the pie away, the entire pie is big enough that there’s plenty left to claim for themselves: they can give more and take more.”
When I turn down clients who I feel cannot grow, I am able to devote more resources to those with whom I believe I can make a difference. I help them out of a sense of purpose rather than obligation, with hope rather than futility. This win-win situation does wonders for my mental health and prevents burnout. INQQueena N. Lee-Chua is with the board of directors of Ateneo’s Family Business Center. Get her book “All in the Family Business” via Lazada, or the e-book version on Amazon, Google Play, Apple iBooks. Contact the author at [email protected]
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