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Knowledge Management Projects: How to succeed without “burnout”?

1 March 2011

What Is Burnout?

Work-related burnout is not a new idea; employees have been experiencing its effects since the organized workplace has existed. Burnout describes the process by which employees become disillusioned, frustrated and unproductive at the workplace due to high levels of stress (Malach-Pines, 2001). The concept was traditionally examined in the context of human services, where employees are more in interaction with other people (clients, customers, etc.) rather than dealing with things and information. Knowledge management (KM) consultancy is no exception to this.Burnout is related to but different from common stress. Typically, stress is manageable and can even be beneficial if dealt with effectively. Stress at workplace is defined as the perception of differences between environmental demands (stressors) and individual capacities to fulfill these demands in work. Stressors are the factors which cause stress. Stress can be positive when it inspires and encourages. In contrast, distress, or negative stress, has the opposite effect - high workload and conflicting roles, lack of respect and recognition, and poor interpersonal relations.


What Causes Burnout?

Dr. Ayala Malach Pines argues that the cause of burnout is not what we have too much to do, it’s the feeling that we do aren’t meaningful or don’t reflect who we are. According to Dr Malach, there are several characteristics that may cause the development of burnout: lack of control (lack of active involvement in the organization which causes individuals to feel less important or undervalued); workload (a result of too much to do); reward (lack of feedback and recognition); community (social environment), fairness (social justice); value (conflict with the job).

What are the implications to knowledge management and knowledge managers?

The success of knowledge managers depends on their ability to manage organizational knowledge. Yet, managing organizational knowledge is a difficult task considering the variety of factors that affect it over time, including organizational structure, informal social processes, and interactions among people, activities, and market changes. Each area of the KM has its stressors. However, not all stress is bad; some stress is an unavoidable part of working in a field such as Organizational Knowledge management. Reactions triggered by stressors can have a beneficial effect on motivation and performance.The recognition in the work’s importance also predicts the level of performance. When people believe that their work is important, the performance level will be higher and burnout feeling lower.Thus, what can we conclude about the work of KM leaders? Yes, work is stressful, but at the same time, it involves substantial personal gains, for example, a recognition in one’s significant contribution to the organization and society.How does such work of Knowledge Management contribute to the creation of a sense of meaning and personal importance? This is connected to the fact that the work answers the need in diversity, evokes interest and curiosity, answers the need in professional exploration, allows contribution out of personal experience, raises the opinion leader’s social status and allows working with other professionals and valued individuals in society.So, if we succeed to evoke in the employee work motivation and that his work is meaningful, we will succeed in not only creating a better site for Knowledge Management but also protect the employee from feeling burnout. This is possible of course if the organization manages to offer the employee professional tools and guidance in executing the Knowledge Management work.

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