When it comes to workplace burnout, we don’t think we need to restate some of the obvious facts. We all know that burnout is an issue in many businesses across the country, and indeed across the world. There are countless blogs and huge amounts of research that demonstrate this.
And we all know that it’s getting worse during the pandemic. Covid has caused a massive shift in the way that we all work, and for many this is causing serious issues with burnout and other mental health problems.
So, what should businesses be doing? Clearly, the best businesses should aspire to have comprehensive strategies in place to ideally prevent, or at the very least deal with, burnout. Burnout causes employee churn, it lowers productivity, and, worryingly, it makes employees more likely to visit A&E. So, it’s vital from a business perspective, but also from a human one, to be working on wellness strategies in your company.
In this article, we’re going to pick through some of the research on burnout itself, and then look at some of the solutions that we have been using with our clients.
The Causes of Workplace Burnout
Gallup’s research into workplace burnout identifies a number of key root causes. These include things like poor management, poor communication, poor workload scheduling, and unreasonable time pressure placed on teams.
Workplace burnout is a complex issue that can be caused by a number of poor workplace practices. Either individually, or working together, these build a picture of a workplace that doesn’t care about its people. And these people are then likely to develop some or all of the symptoms of burnout, as defined by the World Health Organisation:
- “Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy.”
The way that businesses and teams are managed is not always conducive to forming trust and psychological safety – two key aspects to foster in order to tackle workplace burnout. Obviously, it isn’t all about what managers can do. Wellness is about the individual keeping themselves well, but individuals in businesses can often feel that they’re not given the space to do this. This then results in a negative impact on their mental health and can then cause burnout. A lack of clarity from management over what’s expected of their people, coupled with not giving real space for teams to work on wellness, are key causes of this lack of psychological safety.
Some organisational structures may also be amongst the causes of burnout. With these factors, it isn’t so much that certain structures cause burnout more often, rather that individuals who have no control over how their organisation is structured, and no input through channels to address their concerns, are more likely to experience in burnout. This is likely to come to a head as we begin to transition out of the pandemic, as around a third of people currently working say that they’re actively looking for a new job due to concerns over how their company responded to the pandemic. This may be concerns over the speed with which remote working was implemented, the ability of the organisation to transition its work in an agile way, or even concerns over their autonomy during remote working. With this number of people looking to change jobs, we could be facing a massive shift over the coming year.
Remote working itself may also be causing burnout issues, especially when, as we’ve just mentioned, teams feel that their autonomy is being impinged upon. With talks of draconian-sounding policies like always-on cameras watching call centre staff work, it’s no surprise that businesses who can give their people positive autonomy and self-direction are far more likely to be in a better shape when it comes to workplace wellness.
When it comes to wellbeing strategies in businesses, the truth is that there are so many different options that it’s difficult to discuss just a few. Plus, what works in some businesses and for some teams may not work for others. The key is to create strategies that foster psychological safety and offer your people their own input, so they can take control of their own wellness processes.
What we can do in this blog post is give you some general guidance that you can use to help develop your own strategies that’ll work with your teams and people.
According to the Gallup research we mentioned earlier, there are five principles or aspects of life that managers should use to encourage wellbeing in the workplace. These are:
What this allows you to do as a manager is to think of each person in your team’s holistic wellbeing according to each of these five principles. What’s affecting each person? What could you do to help? What’s the long-term goal for each one? Some members of your team may be more driven by some of these principles than others, so you can identify these as a manager and then put specific structures in place to address them.
An essential part of this whole process is genuinely understanding your workforce. For example, Goldman Sachs who recently hit the news due to their terrible record of looking after their workforce, were allegedly putting on virtual yoga sessions to try and tick the wellbeing box, but their people say that they don’t have the time to do them! You need to understand your workforce, so you can support them with targeted interventions that’ll really help.
For example, if you have a lot of people that are working late, causing themselves to take on additional stress and overwork, perhaps look at implementing an email cut-off point. This would mean that between 6pm and 8am no emails will be sent from or received to company email addresses, encouraging your teams to take the time to reset and recharge.
Another place you could look to help is the commute. While commuting has been much maligned, as we move to a more remote-first environment, there’s research being done that suggests that a short commute to reset can in fact be a positive thing. In German, the term for this is “Feierabend”, meaning the time just after you stop working when you can rest and reset. As remote working makes this line less distinct for many, the idea of implementing fake commutes is becoming a lot more popular. This can be as simple as a short walk around the block. We’d expect there to be more research coming out into this concept shortly, so it’s well worth keeping an eye on how the landscape develops around this as many businesses may be missing a wellness trick.
We know workplace wellness may sound a bit daunting, but many businesses are taking positive steps. Most people are expecting positive engagement from their managers and companies, but you can demonstrate this in a number of different ways, and it’s not about getting it all right, straight away.
At The Thrive Lab, we really understand how burnout culture has come about, so we can help you tackle it by putting in place wellbeing strategies and helping you work out priorities. We can educate organisations to support their people, by looking at the wellbeing offer from different angles. It’s not ust about the individual’s responsibility to take a yoga class – we look at the wider context. This means investigating the culture of the organisation, and how the teams are set up to support wellbeing.
If you need some help with wellness strategies in your business, just get in touch with The Thrive Lab.