Battling The Burnout Epidemic

work burnout

For decades, burnout was treated as a personal problem, something that happened to people who weren’t able to handle stress, or who’d taken on more work than they really should have – but that changed in 2019, when “work burnout” was officially recognized by the World Health Organization as an ‘occupational phenomenon” – and in the last 18 months, of course, burnout was taken to a whole other level, as we all collectively tried to balance our work lives as well as our home lives throughout the pandemic. Our guest today is Jennifer Moss. Jennifer is an award-winning journalist, a syndicated radio columnist and two-time author. Her latest book is The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It.

Here, she explains:

  • What "burnout" is;
  • The personal and organizational consequences of burnout in the workplace;
  • The root causes of burnout; and
  • How to build an anti-burnout strategy in your workplace!


If you prefer to read along while you listen, we've done all the hard work for you! We listened back to this episode and took notes below, and access is free! 

 

What Is Work Burnout?

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Consequences Of Individual Burnout

  • There are numerous serious consequences that can stem from individual work burnout.
  • Even in just the sense of healthcare costs, the American Psychological Association found that in high-pressure workplaces, healthcare costs are about 50% higher on average.
  • Workplace stress is estimated to cost the United States employers upwards of $500 billion per year.
  • We are currently seeing a mass resignation from work - The Great Resignation, if you will.

Shifting Mindsets When Tackling Work Burnout

  • Work burnout became more widely recognized around the globe when WHO recognized it as an occupational phenomena in 2019 and many were relieved to have more people understanding how real of an issue work burnout can be.
  • Previously, many saw work burnout as just a symptom of poor self care, but it is so much more than that.
    • Things like workload overwork and chronic overwork have big impacts on how quickly people can burnout. 
    • Workplace discrimiation, systemic discrimiation, equity, pay, and more can all affect work burnout.
  • The new mindset around burnout needs to focus more on how employers can systematically improve the lives of their employees as opposed to leaving it up to them to solve individually.
    • This is not an individual problem, it is a problem that faces a workforce as a whole. 
  • Leaders should now be focused on prevention strategies to combat work burnout as compared to providing small perks that essentially treat the symptoms of burnout instead of treating the disease.
  • For many, not being able to control burnout on an individual level can lead to feelings of shame -  especially for high-performing people who are potentially more prone to perfectionist concerns, which is something that can also contribute to burnout.

Causes Of Burnout

  • There are six root causes of work burnout.
    • Workload
    • Lack of fairness
    • Lack of agency
    • Lack of community
    • Mismatched skillsets
    • Chronic overqualification
  • It is important to view these root causes as societal issues and organizational issues when it comes to policy and structure.
    • Employers need to understand that these issues are very complex and that the solution to these problems should not solely be placed on an individual to figure out.

Impacts Of Work Burnout On Our Organizations

  • For the first time in history, employees have the ultimate power to choose where they want to be.
  • A Microsoft survey that encompassed about 30,000 global employees found that roughly 41% of those participants are actively looking at leaving their current career entirely by this fall.
    • Employees are looking at leaving their jobs because they have no desire to work in a place that does not take their wellbeing into account. 
  • In her research, Ms. Moss found that among people who cannot talk about mental health at work, 67% of them felt work burnout extremely often.
  • There is a paradigm shift occurring in the workplace and employers have to make changes to adjust to that shift or they will end up seeing high turnover rates and will face other workplace issues. 

Does My Organization Have Signs Of Work Burnout?

  • The pandemic brought about immense change to workplaces everywhere, and organizations that are trying to adjust back to how things were prior to the pandemic are surely going to be seeing signs of work burnout frontline employees, and possibly even their leaders. 
  • Again, any sign of an increasing turnover could be an indicator of work burnout. 
  • Giving employees time off when it is apparent that they may be feeling burnt out is not a solution, it is treating a symptom. 
    • If an employer is working to mitigate the symptoms of work burnout, they are deploying resources to a false solution.
  • Employers should proactively talk to employees to understand their day-to-day and address how their levels of burnout could be avoided, before an employee ever reaches a tipping point. 

Utilizing Traditional Corporate Wellness Resources

  • Resources like gym memberships, mindfulness courses, and meditation apps can be helpful to combat work burnout, but it is important for leaders to understand how those resources are working for people.
  • Only about 20% of employees are high-performing, engaged, and happy at work, and those resources can be a big reason for that for some.
  • Traditional wellness resources should by no means replace any other efforts to combat work burnout, but rather they should be used in conjunction with those proactive strategies.

Fixing Already Set-In Work Burnout Issues

  • A huge tactic to help remedy an already work burnout laden organization is to actively listen to employees and treat them how you would think they would treat themselves.
    • This is another way to create policies, infrastructure, strategy, communications, and platforms to combat burnout, but they will be created in the image of employees, not in the image of the organization or the organization’s leaders.
  • Managers should check in with employees consistently about non-work related topics and really listen for the root issues and power behind what they may be facing in life right now.
  • This is how organizations can create truly empathetic policies and systems that support employees fully.

Anti-Burnout Strategy

  • Ensuring that organizations have a way to accurately measure levels of burnout is key to developing an anti-burnout strategy.
    • There should be anonymous methods of getting feedback from employees. 
  • Once that data and feedback is received, leaders can begin to tackle issues where they truly exist.
  • These solutions will not be a one-size-fits-all for every organization.
    • There will even be micro-strategies between different personnel groups within the organization.
  • The changes needed to develop a robust anti-burnout strategy should take time and it should evolve day-to-day, week-to-week, month-to-month, and year-to-year.

The Role Of Leadership

  • Similar to many concepts, leaders should model the behavior necessary to combat work burnout. 
    • This means taking time off, having conversations with others, engaging in wellness activities, etc.
  • Continuous leadership participation is the driving factor behind creating a long-term culture and strategy that avoids work burnout.

Measuring The Success Of Anti-Work Burnout Efforts

  • There is a great tool called The Maslach Burnout Inventory, which is the gold standard for work-life surveying. 
    • This system allows employers to observe and understand where the level of burnout is among their employees and what stage of burnout individuals are at. 
  • Direct managers should keep a pulse on their respective teams to have a sense of where the burnout level resides for their department. 
  • Pulse surveys have become widely used, but today we can frame questions in those surveys that are specific to burnout.
    • It can reveal how people feel about their workload, if they are becoming cynical, and how exhausted they are. 
    • These are all signs of burnout and these surveys can measure whether those metrics are improving or not.
    • Based on the results of these surveys, leaders can then dive in and help people “on the ground” to combat the sense of work burnout they might be feeling.

Key Behaviors To Prevent A Decline Back Into A Work Burnout Culture

  • Empathy, trust, and transparency are incredibly key, especially when it is between leaders and their teams. 
  • When leaders are open and consistent with their behavior, messaging, and support toward employees, the employees will also feel like they can display the same behaviors, which leads to a healthier work environment as a whole. 
  • Listening is another skill that is beneficial from leaders and employees all the same.
  • Flexibility and agile leadership will also go a long way to quickly and effectively adapting to changes in society and in the workplace. 
  • Constant communication (including listening) about work burnout can be incredibly important to improving transparency and honesty within the workplace.
  • People do not need to be constantly monitored, but they should have someone who will listen to their concerns.

Jennifer Moss Background

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About the Author Jacqueline Gregory

As a creative, persuasive communications professional with extensive experience guiding projects from concept through completion Jacqui has produced custom communications for some of the world's best known brands. Producing ProjectHR has been one of her favorite ways to engage and delight HR and Labor Relations professionals!

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