Founder and Chief Culture Officer of Ideal Outcomes, Inc. Author of the new book “Culture Ignited: 5 Disciplines for Adaptive Leadership.”
A new challenge has swept through corporate America during the struggle to function in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic: burnout. A staggering 89% of employees have fallen victim to burnout, according to a survey of 1,000 full-time U.S. workers by workplace analytics firm Visier. Even more worrying is that 27% said they experienced burnout “all the time.”
To me, it’s not surprising that the upheaval caused by the coronavirus has contributed to burnout. And, while certainly not the only factor, burnout may well contribute to what’s been called “the Great Resignation.” A record-breaking 4.3 million Americans quit their jobs in August, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. That record followed on the heels of other record-breaking months and impacted most industries. Obviously, the goal for company leaders is not to lose good employees in the first place and avoid the costs involved in finding and training replacements.
But what can be done to help ease the burden of burnout?
What about giving employees a break — making them take time off to unwind from the daily pressures and workload? Many companies have tried that approach. Dating app Bumble, for example, closed for a week to give its 700 employees the opportunity to alleviate their stress and recharge their batteries. Similarly, LinkedIn initiated a paid week off for most of its 15,900 full-timers. Other companies are taking steps to address burnout as well, such as financial services firms Goldman Sachs and Citigroup.
At face value, this seems like a sound strategy, but according to Gallup, it’s not only the number of hours people work that matters but also how they’re managed and their overall work experience. Gallup’s research shows that the top five factors that cause burnout are “unfair treatment at work,” “unmanageable workload,” “unclear communication from managers,” “lack of manager support” and “unreasonable time pressure.”
“When people feel inspired, motivated and supported in their work, they do more work — and that work is significantly less stressful on their overall health and wellbeing,” Gallup said.
This is something I have successfully emphasized while working with companies in various industries as they implemented remote-work strategies necessitated by the pandemic. Senior executives and managers alike must take into account those top five burnout causes — and take steps to mitigate them — if they want to keep employees engaged and productive. Below are a few of my recommendations for getting started:
Show your team you care.
To start, you can consider offering your employees flexibility in where and how they work. Additionally, provide them with constructive communication and feedback. In my experience, this can enable them to get more work done and with far less stress. From my perspective, ineffective managers who don’t support and inspire could otherwise be a major contributing factor to an individual’s burnout.
Another way to show your team members that you truly care is to give them one of the most precious commodities of all: your time. The Visier survey also revealed that 37% of workers were not comfortable discussing burnout with their supervisor, often in fear they would be regarded as incapable of performing their work or because they felt there was nothing to gain regardless. To combat this in your own company, I suggest allocating time for one-on-one conversations and encouraging your team to share their concerns and ideas. Then, prove that you listened by giving them feedback, especially when you’re able to implement actions they may have suggested.
Allow your employees to unplug after work.
In my own research, I’ve also discovered that a majority of employees are expected to check in while on vacation. A 2019 LinkedIn survey (via CBS News) underscores my findings: The majority of workers engaged in work duties during their time off.
This is another issue where leaders need to take the lead and emphasize that a break from work should be a true mental break so that employees return refreshed and invigorated. For example, you can avoid sending emails at night or on the weekends. Receivers of off-hours emails could become more stressed than you might expect if they assume a quick response is required. If you do send such emails, you can make a point of including language such as, “If you receive this email outside of work hours, please be aware it is not urgent. Get to it whenever you can.”
These are the first few steps you can take to work toward mitigating burnout in your company. Doing so is better for your team and your bottom line.