The Acceleration Trap

How to Avoid Company Burnout

In the current issue of The Harvard Business Review, authors Heike Bruch and Jochen Menges explore the root causes of “The Acceleration Trap” – never-ending, hard-charging activity and change inside an organization – and offer practical solutions to avoid it.

Although their change and growth strategies often succeed brilliantly for a while, CEOs often try to make frenetic change the new normal. Symptoms of over-accelerated companies, ironically, often yield poor performance: lack of employee motivation, scattershot focus, and deteriorating customer service.

Does your company have an acceleration culture?  Take this quick, 16 question quiz to find out.

Over-accelerated companies exhibit at least one of three distinct patterns of destructive activity:

  • Activity Overload – Employees are overloaded with too many activities and don’t have the time or the resources required to do their jobs.
  • Multiloading – Employees are asked to do too many different kinds of activities, leaving them and the company unfocused, and activities misaligned.
  • Perpetual Loading – Management gets into the habit of creating constant change, depriving workers of any hope to recharge and refresh themselves on the heels of an intense period of work.

In a survey of employees from 600 firms, Bruch and Menges found significant distinctions between trapped and non-trapped businesses.  Here’s what the employees had to say:

  • “I lack resources to get my work done” (60% trapped vs 2% non-trapped)
  • “I work under constantly elevated time pressure” (80% trapped vs. 4% non-trapped)
  • “My company’s priorities frequently change” (75% trapped vs 1% non-trapped)
  • “I see a light at the end of the tunnel” (3% trapped vs. 83% non-trapped)
  • “I regularly get a chance to regenerate” (6% trapped vs. 86% non-trapped)

Ever been there as a staffer?  No, it’s not much fun at all.

If your organization is caught in the acceleration trap, there are four ways to break free: clarify your strategy, stop less important work, create a system to select projects, and declare an end to the current mode of hyper energy operation.  The bottom line: don’t drive your company constantly to its limits.

Over-acceleration – often in the form of aggressive growth and change – leads to loss of focus, too many activities, organizational fatigue, and employee burnout.  To combat it, strive to be aware of the exertion that underlies progress toward your goals, and work on making sure the firm’s energy level is sustainable.  This means being vigilant, even when things are going smoothly, for signs that the company is slipping into the acceleration trap.

Are you wondering if your company has an acceleration culture?  Click here to take our brief, 16 question quiz!

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