12 Nov How to Reduce the Risk of Employee Burnout in the workplace
The World Health Organisation (WHO) updated its definition of Burnout in 2019 and for the first time described it as a workplace syndrome “Burnout is a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. “
Given the impact of COVID-19, this definition seems woefully simplistic. It seems to assume that the workplace and the home are two different worlds. What if the workplace and the home is the same location? What if the cause of the stress is a pandemic, and it has resulted in massively unresolved stress both in the workplace and at home? It is not caused by either of these in isolation, but both together and at the same time. This requires a different solution, one that goes beyond the workplace or the home – one that looks into both.
While this is an issue that undoubtedly impacts all employees, it is also clear from the results of our recent survey findings that this is an issue that impacts women to a much greater extent than men.
In addition, our survey findings also show that 51% of employees are feeling less connected to their teams.
These are exceptional numbers and if stress is not being successfully managed, then increased levels of employee burnout is on its way.
What are the causes of burnout?
According to the Mayo Clinic, the following are some of the key causes:
- Lack of control. An inability to influence decisions that affect your job — such as your schedule, assignments or workload — could lead to burnout.
- Lack of social support. If you feel isolated at work and in your personal life, you might feel more stressed.
- Work-life imbalance. If your work takes up so much of your time and effort that you don’t have the energy to spend time with your family and friends, you might burn out quickly.
Are any alarm bells ringing yet?
Organisations need to get ahead of this issue and start taking workplace wellbeing far more seriously. The workplace has changed dramatically for most employees since the onset of COVID-19 earlier this year. In the short term, many employees and organisations responded to the emergency well, this is the ‘honeymoon period’ a natural human reaction to a short-term shock – we all pull together. But what if the long-term impact of this is still yet to be felt?
So, what can be done? Organisations need to take a multi-pronged approach:
- Find out what’s really going on
It is crucial that organisations understand what is really going on – and data is the key here. If you have employee engagement surveys, make sure they are updated to reflect the impact of COVID-19 and working from home. You also need to look at how frequently you are analysing employee perceptions; annually is no good in the current environment – the data will be out of date by the time you analyse it! You need to implement more frequent and more focused employee pulse surveys.
- Focus on your people managers
Our research shows that the line manager has a crucial role in managing workplace stress. But they need a new toolkit. Train them how to manage remote teams, and most importantly, how to connect at a more individual and emotional level with team members. It is this individual emotional connection that will help ensure that stress is identified early and that solutions are put in place that fit with each team member’s needs. It is equally important that the line manager has the authority and understands the process to put individual employee centred supports in place quickly.
- Ensure your employee wellbeing programmes are fit for purpose
Most wellbeing programmes are not designed around employees working from home, they are also not designed for the levels of stress that many staff are currently reporting. They need to be reviewed and updated. Line managers need to become more engaged in wellness initiatives and lead by example, by actively participating in wellbeing programmes and communicating the benefits to team members based on their own experience.
- Leadership need to break down barriers and stigma
Many organisations have great supports available for employees who are struggling with stress, yet employees are often reluctant to engage with that support. Often, they are worried about how it might be perceived by senior leadership and the potential negative impact on their career. Senior Leaders need to consider how they are contributing to that perception, to that stigma, and what they can do to help break it down. Showing some vulnerability as a leader can really help here.
- Highly engaging communication
More than anything, communication is absolutely key. It must be frequent, clear, open and honest. It must have multiple streams; top-down, bottom-up, peer to peer, within teams, one to ones, surveys, focus groups etc. A top-down, cascaded approach is simply not good enough. Focus on what the organisation is doing and highlight what supports are available for employees, ask employees for their input, get leaders and teams talking openly about how they are doing (really) and what is going on. Actively respond to employee feedback. Then keep repeating regularly.
At OMT Global, we believe that COVID-19 is having a profound effect on individual stress and wellbeing in the workplace, the consequence of which will be felt for years to come. Senior Leaders need to take this issue more seriously – we are not in a ‘new normal,’ these are extraordinary times, and need extraordinary actions.
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