Is burnout the next crisis facing the workplace?

25th November by Lee Robertson

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Is burnout the next workplace crisis?

Are we doing enough to look after our employees?

Earlier this year, the World Health Organisation (WHO) officially recognised burnout as an occupational phenomenon explaining it as a “syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.

Official stats published in October from the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) reveal that 12.8 million working days were lost to work-related stress, depression and anxiety in 2018/2019. While the rate of these work-related problems has remained broadly flat, it has shown signs of increasing in recent years and now accounts for 44% of all lost working days.

Employees are struggling with real problems caused by their work such as a heavy workload, tight deadlines or having too much responsibility, a lack of managerial support, changes at work, uncertainty from aspects like a lack of clarity about their job and issues including violence, threats and bullying. If anything, the HSE’s Labour Force Survey paints a worrying picture that business leaders and managers should be sitting up and paying attention to.

These findings are backed-up by a 2018 Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full time employees which discovered that nearly two-thirds of those surveyed, experienced burnout on the job. It also highlighted that workers facing burnout were 63% more likely to take a sick day, were half as likely to discuss how to approach performance goals with a manager, 2.6 times more likely to leave their employer and 13% less confident in their performance at work.

These often-undue pressures and demands are having a harmful reaction which can trigger a downturn in individual, team and organisation performance if they are not addressed.

This puts employers and HR departments at an important crossroads where they can stop burnout before it starts because as Gallup’s research found, employees can often suffer from burnout because of how their manager treats them.

The key learning here is that burnout can be avoided and even reversed if managers think more about how to get the best from their employees. By making simple changes to create a positive work culture and using a coaching or mentoring approach, managers can take the appropriate steps to motivate their colleagues, build better workplace health and create an environment where everyone has the opportunity to make the most of their potential.

1 Listen to worker’s concerns and problems

Gallup found that employees who had a manager who listened to them were 62% less likely to suffer from burnout. Making the time and space to listen to and understand them is the first step in solving problems and supporting colleagues. Managers who use active listening demonstrate that they care and will help address challenges and issues facing their employees.

2 Use positive feedback and focus on personal development

People are hired on their abilities to do specific roles, but how often do managers praise them for their contribution? Gallup’s survey found that employees who are given the opportunity to do what they do best are 57% less likely to be subjected to burnout. A good manager is obligated to work with their employee’s strengths and focus on how they can make them perform even better by investing in their potential and using positive feedback to set development goals and advance learning.

3 Work should have purpose

People don’t just go to work to get paid. Workers and particularly, those who are millennials, are increasingly being driven by purpose and meaning in their working lives. Employees need to feel they are being recognised for the contribution they are making. The priority is for managers to enable their employees to feel connected to the work they are doing and have faith in that they are helping to make a difference to their company, team and the ecosystem they serve.

4 Instill a team spirit

Working as part of a team should provide an automatic opportunity to create strong bonds and forge trust between team members. Co-workers will often be in a good position to understand what each other is experiencing and can offer emotional support when needed. However, managers should not separate themselves from the team and have the responsibility to ensure that the team has the right working environment and culture to work together, share accountability and make the best of each other’s strengths and expertise.

5 Opinions really do matter

Building on teamwork and personal development goals are crucially important, but employees also need to know their opinion matters. Having their voice heard gives them a sense of ownership and accountability. Knowing that their opinion counts for something is a big morale booster because they feel important and this helps employees take more responsibility for their performance. It also often comes with unseen benefits such as the creation of ideas for new services and products and suggestions for operational efficiencies which can improve customer service and reduce costs.

Manager and employees alike have very human needs. We all need to feel valued, to know that we appreciated and to believe that we are making a difference in our own small way. People matter and for organisations to be truly successful, our talent management strategies need to change for the better with our employees being supported at work to be resilient, change ready and fulfilled in what they are doing.