It’s generally accepted that everything from our decision making to our sense of self-control tend to suffer when we’re tired, be that physically or mentally. It’s one of the reasons why getting enough sleep is so very important to our professional performance and wellbeing.
A recent paper, by the British Psychological Society, that was shown at the Division of Occupational Psychology’s annual conference highlights just how big an impact burnout has on our decision making ability.
The paper, authored by academics from the University of Surrey, saw participants complete an online questionnaire that sought to determine their decision making style, level of fatigue and burnout. It emerged that around half of the participants, who came from a wide range of professions, including finance, healthcare and education, were averging 40 hours a week at work.
The group were then asked to complete a second test whereby they were placed in a range of work style situations and asked to choose the best of two actions they could take under the circumstances. In each scenario, there was a risky option and a safe option, with participants also instructed to rate the potential consequences of their choices should the worst case scenario materialise.
How would you do?
A typical scenario used in the experiment is included below. Ask yourself what decision or choice you would make in the same circumstances.
"Your colleague with whom you are sharing an office takes home confidential information without permission. You notice this couple of times and you are aware that this is a serious offence. If by any chance your boss realizes that the information is missing there is a possibility that you might be blamed as well.
You wonder what you should do?
- You don’t say anything to your boss and hope that your colleague will not do that again
- You tell your boss that your colleague is taking confidential information at home
Participants in the study were asked to choose on a scale of 0-10, with 0 being most likely to choose the first option, and 10 being most likely to choose the 2nd. They were then asked how likely it would be that their boss would notice the missing information, with 0 being not at all likely and 10 being very likely. Finally, they were asked what the consequences would be if your manager sees that the information is not there, with 0 being not very serious at all, and 10 being deadly serious.
How did you score?
The result of burnout
When the results were pooled together, it provided a fascinating insight into the effect of burnout on our decision making. Participants exhibiting symptoms of burnout were shown to be more spontaneous and to make more irrational decisions, that is when they took them in the first place, for they were also more prone to put decision making off if at all possible.
"In addition to the existing characteristics of burnout this study suggests that burnt-out individuals may avoid taking decisions and are characterized by irrational and spontaneous decision making styles. As decision-making may lead to detrimental consequences both for the employee and the organization it is important to encourage managers to design work environments that provide more suitable support to employees who are responsible for decision-making tasks," the researchers conclude.
All of which goes to underline the importance of not letting yourself, or indeed your colleagues reach the stage of being burned out.