7 min read

Rising from the Burnout Ashes

Written by
HJ Griffioen
Published on
January 13, 2023


My professional life started in consulting — assessing and advising organisations on Strategy Execution, HR & Communication. Soon enough, I developed a taste for innovation and digital product development. I’m passionate about creating new digital products that have a direct impact on their users, because they make life easier and more fun — I wanted to be part of that world. I was lucky enough to work on cool and innovative digital projects for the Telegraaf Media Group (TMG) and the international trade show host RAI Amsterdam.

The birth of an idea

During my career, I experienced obvious professional highs and lows. One of the lows, that turned into a high later on, was when I experienced burnout some 8 years ago. At first, I blamed myself for what happened and I reached out for professional help to improve my abilities to reflect on my emotions, behaviour and to become more resilient. After a while, I came to realise that the organisation I was part of back then wasn’t equipped to provide a healthy workplace. I’m convinced that everybody was willing to support each other. But unfortunately it was the type of startup environment that lacked the structure and resources to effectively oversee wellbeing in the workplace. We were not able to distinguish the type of stress that enhances performance from the type of stress that increases the risk of mental health issues when it accumulates. Back then, we essentially lacked the knowledge, awareness, and attention to spot symptoms of stress, but also lacked insights to identify its work-related root causes and intervene on time to improve our workplace effectively.

As a result of the impact this had on me personally, I began observing the magnitude and frequency of this burnout phenomenon both from an employee and employer perspective. I did some digging into the data and it didn’t take long for me to realise how big this problem is, and how little is in place in organisations to spot it and prevent it from becoming an issue — a personal struggle for the individual and an expensive one for the organisation. I became convinced that this needed to change. This idea was born of a simple thought — if I can prevent 1 other burnout from happening, it would already be worth it for me.

Founders of Builders with venture founders

Hitting the ground running

It is at this stage of my professional journey that I decided to join Builders; I want to start a venture in a hit-the-ground-running kind of style, and that’s why the studio approach stood out to me. I thrive in a collaborative environment, backed by a team from day one, where a variety of experts challenge me to go the extra mile and, at the same time, help keep me on the right track. I love that type of workplace setup. Wherever I go, regardless of the ambition I try to realise with a team, I always like to help build towards a culture where people feel confident about their personal trajectories as well. My ambitions are not only about caring but about daring too — daring to go the extra mile; daring to move the needle. I like enabling companies to build a great place to work, where taking care of people is at the core of their values.

Moving forward

My ambition of being the catalyst that could prevent at least one burnout may sound altruistic or heroic — but in all honesty, my motives are very self centred in a way. Research on burnout suggests that individuals who have experienced it once may be at a higher risk for experiencing it again in the future. So the point of this story is not that I crossed paths with a big scary monster, conquered it and merrily moved on to next challenges life has to offer.

In reality, I’m still very much drawn towards places where performance is pushed to its very limits and where being exposed to stress is part of the equation; I’m fine with that, you could say that I have a high risk appetite. The most important thing I learned from my previous experiences is making it a habit to reflect on symptoms and act on root causes. For me, this involved learning to say ‘no’ more often and deciding to walk away from challenges that appeared not to be a good fit for me.

In later posts I will reflect on how to build a healthy workspace in a more elaborate way. If you want to share experiences on this topic, please reach out to me as I love to reflect on this topic together with others.

Resources to do some digging yourself:
McKinsey Health Institute — Addressing employee burnout: Are you solving the right problem?

WHO - Doing What Matters in Times of Stress

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