Work Smarter//

How to Avoid “Collaboration Burnout” at Work

In desperate need of solo time on the job? These tips can help.

RawPixel/ Shutterstock
RawPixel/ Shutterstock

If the vast majority of your work hours are spent in constant collaboration with others — in meetings, on email, over the phone — you’re not alone. Our hyperconnectivity and “teamwork” mentality makes solo work hard to come by in some offices. To be sure, a lot of great things happen in workplaces where people talk to each other — a lot. But there’s one potential downside that’s worth paying attention to: “collaboration burnout,” as the phenomenon has been dubbed.

Essentially, the teamwork-or-bust mentality leaves some people feeling like they’ve O.D.-ed on collaboration, and starved for time to do solo working or thinking. There’s no one personality type that’s at risk for collaboration burnout. Sure, if you’re introverted by nature, you could feel it more. But even extroverts may feel the affects. The fact is that many people generate more creative and innovative ideas when they’re given time and space to work on their own first, and then collaborate, Michael Alcée, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and TEDx speaker on introversion, tells Thrive.

The good news for everyone? It’s entirely possible to feel productive and fulfilled at work, even if your environment conflicts with your nature. Here, a few tips to help prevent collaboration burnout while still being viewed as a “team-player.”

Take solo breaks to recharge

Often, we try to ignore our own natural tendencies in order to blend in with our surroundings. While adaptability in the workplace is a key to success, it’s important to know if you’re the type who needs private time to recharge. “Don’t feel guilty about taking breaks to stay in your productivity and creativity sweet-spot,” Alcée says. “Whether that means going on a walk to gather your best ideas or giving yourself a solo lunch break, it’s important that you have the right balance so you can optimally perform — and stay emotionally balanced.” If you’re feeling guilty about needing some alone time, remind yourself that doing what you need to thrive ultimately affects the broader team’s success — so it benefits everyone.

Find your “office nook”

The majority of offices today have open floor plans. Because of this, workers have very little respite from each other. “I call it ‘The New Groupthink,’” Susan Cain, author of Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World That Can’t Stop Talking, tells Thrive. “The idea that creativity and problem-solving emerges from a highly gregarious process.” While this type of environment has its perks, Cain says it’s important to find a private space in your office that allows you to think on your own occasionally. “Decades of research show that individuals who brainstorm problems alone produce more and better ideas than groups of people brainstorming together,” she adds. “The ideal office layout combines private and collaborative spaces.”

Communicate 

Collaboration burnout is more likely to happen when you bottle up what’s not working for you. “Let your manager know you’d be much more productive if you have some time to work independently,” Alcée suggests. “See if they can have your back to help get you out of less critical or more germane meetings, or to just make sure others don’t interfere too much with your workflow.” 

Try “collaboration intervals”

Protecting your private time will make it easier to collaborate when there’s a good reason to, so don’t be afraid to hack your calendar. “I’m a big fan of ‘chunking’ your workday,” Cain says. “Try to schedule your meetings, phone calls, and other collaborative events back-to-back, leaving yourself a few hours of uninterrupted time during which you can recharge.” Cain explains that this method can improve your focus and allow you to do “deep flow work.” As Picasso put it: “Without great solitude, no serious work is possible.”

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