Burnout, the # 1 topic of well-being in 2019, and with good reason.
In May 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO), officially included burnout in the International Classification of Diseases. Interestingly it’s included, not as a disease or medical condition, but rather as an occupational phenomenon. Whilst this classification can be debated in its usefulness of creating awareness and reducing stigma, the addition by WHO will certainly push for future research and analysis of burnout.
Before tackling burnout, it is necessary first to identify the cause. Although much more research still needs to be done before we have a better handle on this “phenomenon”, there are a few contributing factors in the workplace that we should already be focusing on.
BURNOUT: A HUMAN PROBLEM
In a technological world, there is a need to recognise burnout as a human problem with connections as humans at its root. Unless your company is completely automated, or comprised of 100% AI, employee well-being must be a priority. Stress and apathy at work need more than just data metrics or an app to be effectively reduced.
Now, I’m certainly no tech head, yet despite my (somewhat) ignorance, I can’t help but dwell on the concept: Could it be that with so much technology in our day, as part of our work, careers and social lives that we need a little brush up on our soft skills and empathy? And what is the effect of including strategies based on human connection within workplace well-being and burnout prevention approaches?
See the Talent and the Person as One
You hired the person, not just the talent. And, the talent is intrinsically linked to that person being able to perform as the best version of themselves. If the environment doesn’t lead to that, then there is a mismatch and something needs to change. True, it could be that your business is not the right fit for the employee and their workplace needs, but if you have a trend of people walking out the door, or falling out on sick leave, it might be time to swallow the bitter “it’s not you it’s me”; and do something about it.
Encourage Human Connections
When it comes to health and longevity, loneliness has a much larger impact than you think. One study has found that loneliness reduces longevity by up to 70%, compared to the much more notorious factors of obesity, drinking and smoking (20%, 30%, and 50% respectively). Lack of connection and understanding (or perception thereof), of yourself as a complete individual and not simply a role within the workplace, can increase feelings of social disconnection and loneliness. This will occur no matter how open plan the workplace may be.
Given the strong connection between loneliness and burnout, strategies to enhance and encourage human connections are key, outside of Friday “Happy Hour”. A case study by Ogimi Health, implementing a well-being strategy performed throughout the day in small groups and teams, found that 82% of participants felt a positive impact on inter-department collaboration, and 81% perceived an increase in their work performance. With the thousands of wellness apps available for individual download, perhaps we can have more of a preventative impact by putting our tech down for a moment, coming together for short non-work related breaks throughout the day.
Keep a Finger on the Pulse of Work Input, Not Just the Results
Clinical Psychologist, Nathalie Peart, explains that “support and recognition make it easier for people to cope with the demands of work by showing them that their efforts are valued” and that “unexpected gestures that communicate sincere appreciation can also be effective.” Think of it as the feeling when receiving an unexpected gift from a loved one or friend, because they appreciated something you did recently, versus the necessary Christmas gift. Nice right?
Give out Autonomy and Responsibility
People want more than to be just another automated cog in a wheel, driven only by the speed of connected activities. The 2019 Netherlands, National report of Work Related Disorders, released by EU-OSHA, stated that the most relevant psycho-social risk factor for Dutch workers “relate(s) to the pace of work being dependent on other people’s demands, working at a very high speed and tight deadlines (more than 60 % of employees work in establishments where these risks are present)”. Give your employees (wherever possible) autonomy over the choice, speed and execution of their projects. This can decrease the risk of burnout to an individual up to 43%.
Talk to Your Personnel
It takes time to curate and optimise a healthy working environment. As consultant Nick Lettink from the consultancy firm YNNO stated, in an article by Facto.nl (Dutch), “Healthy working is more than just a sit to stand desk”. Like all aspects of health, to solve the problem, accurate diagnosis is required. Don’t wait till the exit interview to assess if there was anything more you could do to hold onto your talent.
An interesting Eat Sleep Work Repeat podcast around flexible working, discussed what happens when you dignify employees with the responsibility to formulate work hours that fit their needs and lifestyles. It’s far more likely that your staff will assist you in coming up with the right solution, and highly perform in order to validate your trust, rather than “take advantage” of the situation.
Although there is still much to learn about burnout, it is possible to develop an internally driven well-being culture. The fact is, your employees want to work well, achieve great results and avoid burnout as much as you do. So ask your employees how your workplace could be a more holistically healthy environment, and what could be improved to help them work at their best, long term. It is highly likely they will jump at the chance to help you achieve this. In the end, it affects them more as individual humans than it will affect you.