Les maux des RH : le brown-out
  • Management & Well-Being
  • 16/05/2019

Brown-out : HR’s worst nightmare

Blurring, burnout, email overload, bore-out… an abundance of terms to describe a single overarching concern for HR managers: an unhappy workplace.

Given Eurécia’s consideration for employee well-being, it’s only natural that we broach the subject!

A drop in energy levels

Where does the phrase “Brown-out’ come from, you may ask? It is in fact more commonly used in the field of electricity, to refer to a voluntary or involuntary drop of voltage, the purpose of which is to avoid overheating. In the corporate world, brown-out similarly refers to a drop in motivation and lack of interest as a consequence of employees’ inability to find meaning in their job. 

Brown-out is a syndrome that affects many. According to a study published by Corporate Balance Concepts, 40% of American managers were found to be suffering from Brown-out.

Brown-out is not to be confused with bore-out, which is the product of boredom at work as the result of an insufficient workload. Brown-out, on the other hand, refers to the feeling that your work is devoid of meaning, and leads the sufferer to express their dissatisfaction in the form of weariness and insolence. The victim produces work with no concern for quality, having checked out mentally. According to American anthropologist David Graeber, those affected the most tend to be upper management, CEOs and business attorneys.


How does brown-out manifest?

Brown-out manifests through certain behaviours and feelings:

  • The sufferer’s work is not stimulating them mentally. They find their tasks pointless.
  • They feel like their workload is ever-increasing
  • The subject has ceased to make important decisions for themselves and has stopped paying attention to their career
  • In meetings, the risk of speaking up will outweigh the perceived benefits, and their contributions will be minimal
  • They check their emails as soon as they wake up and before going to bed and have trouble disconnecting from work
  • They are suffering mentally. They have trouble sleeping, eat very little and get little to no exercise.
  • They have lost their sense of humour, and have become aggressive and bitter
  • They have become closed off from their family and friends

How to prevent brown-out ?

It is vital that HR managers and professionals open a line of communication with the person suffering from brown-out, as soon as they notice the warning signs. The dialogue must be of a motivational nature, and those intervening must never belittle the employee. The latter must feel listened to, and the aim is to work towards a solution together. 

Possible solutions designed to imbue the employee with newfound energy can be to give them new projects, invite them to take a few days off, to take on a new position at the company, or to lighten their workload. Unfortunately, despite your best efforts, if they have truly lost all motivation and sense of purpose, they will tend to decline your offers and tender their resignation shortly after, having lost their will to work for your company.

This is why anticipation is key, as are proactive forms of management encouraging active listening and openness to discussion. Performance reviews not only facilitate open dialogue, they are a management tool capable of detecting discrepancies between employee expectations and the reality of their job.