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Incompetence as the Cause of Stress & Burnout at Work

Yesterday I questioned whether or not stress and burnout at the scale as it is presented to us is real or we have just adopted it. Read here or watch below. 

In the video, I also added that incompetence is a source of stress and this morning my friend sent me the same message saying "Problems that require solutions are definitely "stressors". If you've got no clue what you are doing and have no motivation to improve yourself..." I totally agree because I have seen this multiple times. 

There are many ways one can be incompetent for a job but let's look at two. 

1, you don't have the skills, knowledge, and required behaviours that would allow you to do a good job. Pair that with no training and/or support and you are left with two options; struggle through it (stress) or leave. 

2, you don't have the level of stress resilience that is required for that particular role. Every job comes with a certain level of stress (work-related not poor leadership-related) and if you cannot handle that it makes you incompetent for the role even if you have the skills, knowledge and behaviours to perform the job. 

Now what is the problem with these types of incompetence? They don't only stress you out but stress everyone else around you out. This especially applies to high performers and highly competent people. Once I fired my receptionist in the middle of a check-in for inserting the credit card into the PDQ machine the other way around (chip out) and wondering why it was not working. This is what a high level of incompetence combined with a lack of common sense and willingness looks like. 

You would say firing her was not fair to which I respond, imagine the stress she would have continued putting on my supervisors and employees. She was the type of person who needed help with everything, who would make mistakes and have others to correct them. No, thanks. 

As a manager or leader, you don't only fire people because they are incompetent and useless for the business, you also fire them because that incompetence stresses the rest of your team out. 

Needless to say, you must provide proper training before you do that. She had a month of training before this incident happened hence I made the decision right there that she is out. 

Then you have managers and leaders who might technically be highly competent but cannot handle the stress that comes with their role. They get burned out stressed, withdrawn and will hate every second of that role that will impact their team. Combine that incompetence in handling the level of stress with lack of emotional regulation and you have a shouting, screaming manager or leader who lashes out at their employees at every small inconvenience that comes along. 

But why not go crazy and throw both into the equation, technical and stress handling incompetence and you have an HR director screaming at the employees during an investigation process:-))))) Now that's stressful to everyone around and will eventually lead to burnout. I have seen senior leaders' incompetence destroying people around them. They can't provide direction to their teams, cannot establish discipline, train or hire people well, and then fire them for not performing without providing any support. They cannot even run a performance conversation without destroying the person's self-esteem by giving unfair and biased feedback. We would call it toxic leadership but when you look at it closely it is just sheer incompetence at every level. Maybe that is the definition of a toxic leader: incompetent. 

As I said in my video yesterday, we cannot just run surveys asking "Are you stressed?" and take the answer without probing into them further. Many times you will find that people are not really stressed just saying it because social media told them they need to be stressed. Many times employees' stress is caused by external factors, and sometimes by people's incompetence around them. 

It is time to start asking questions about stress and burnout and understand what is happening. Is it real? If so, is it caused within the organisation? If yes, what can we do? If not, do we want to assist our employees? We need to get a little more strategic about analysing data because numbers don't always tell the story. 

PS: Yesterday I watched a documentary about how Bhutan collects data for their happiness index and it made me wonder how we collect employee satisfaction data. They select 1000s of people (sample group) and the researchers go around the country, sit down with each 1:1, and have a 3-4 hours interview that consists of 244 questions. Now my friends in organisations, this show interest towards my level of happiness. 

Exciting news! My second book, "Blind Leading the Disengaged - From Kindergarten to Employee Experience," is dropping in April! It's a treasure trove of solutions and cool ideas to shake up your people management game. But before we get there, let's chat about where we're at now—The Corporate Kindergarten, as I spilt the beans in my first book. Check it out, and let's transform your workplace from a daycare to an awesome employee experience hub!

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