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Burnout: Small Changes Lead to Big Results


What is burnout?

The concept of burnout is not new. It has been a public health epidemic for a while, and it impacts much of the workforce. A Gallup Survey in 2020, released just prior to the pandemic, showed 76% of people experience burnout on the job at least sometimes.

Burnout results from chronic workplace stress. According to the World Health Organization, burnout includes these three elements:

  1. Exhaustion: Experiencing a stress response causing people to feel physically, emotionally, and cognitively exhausted.
  2. Negative and Cynical: Feeling negative and cynical toward work, people at work, and others.
  3. Negative about Oneself: Thinking what is wrong with me and why can’t I handle this?

Simply put, people are stressed out at work.

Why is burnout a high priority for employers?

The modern workplace is fast paced and demanding. Meeting work expectations, while facing stressors brought on by the pandemic and continuing social and political unrest, has exacerbated the effects of workplace burnout. Employers see the impact across industries and the urgency in addressing these issues:

  • Retention: Retaining high performers.
  • Climate and Culture: Building and sustaining an organizational culture where employees feel cared for and want to come to work.
  • Performance and Productivity: Eliminating unnecessary stressors to allow people to perform well and thrive.
  • Overall Health: Beyond mental health conditions, burnout and stress are also linked to serious and costly physical health conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, Type 2 Diabetes, and a general vulnerability to illnesses.

Six Factors for Tackling Burnout

Rome wasn’t built in a day and eliminating burnout can’t be fixed overnight. But there are six (6) well-researched steps that employers can take to tackle burnout according to leading expert, Christine Maslach, PhD:

  1. Workload: Ensuring that people have the time and tools they need to get their work done and opportunities to communicate about their work.
  2. Autonomy and Control: Offering people the chance to have some control over their work and how it gets done.
  3. Reward and Recognition: Ensuring that people are recognized and celebrated for a job well done.
  4. Community and Sense of Belonging: Creating opportunities for people to feel like there is trust and mutual support with colleagues.
  5. Fairness in Opportunities: Offering opportunities for people to be promoted and to feel like they are treated fairly.
  6. Values and Purpose in Work: Supporting people in feeling good about their work and proud of what they are doing.

Small Changes, Big Impact

While there isn’t a standard “roadmap” for addressing burnout in an organization, here are some simple steps employers can take in the six (6) areas to make a positive difference:

  1. Workload
    Remind leaders of the importance of informal check-ins, especially for communication about expectations, workload, and deadlines.
  2. Autonomy and Control
    Find opportunities to give team members more autonomy and control, while still meeting deadlines and work objectives. Where possible, empower team members to assume responsibility and ownership in prioritizing tasks.
  3. Reward and Recognition
    Remind everyone of the importance of recognizing and rewarding employees for wins and achievement, whether big or small.
  4. Community and Sense of Belonging
    Find ways for people to make connections with others, including peers, supervisors, leaders, and across teams. Promote existing and new opportunities for people to engage with others, including through ERGs, mentorship programs, and “virtual lunchrooms.” This is especially important in remote work environments.
  5. Fairness in Opportunities
    Evaluate compensation structure and opportunities for promotion to ensure alignment exists between performance and advancement.
  6. Values and Purpose in Work
    Consider part of the job that people will likely find valuable and remind them about it. Find ways to relate the meaning in the work to the bigger organizational purpose and mission and employee contributions to both.

If your organization is committed to moving the needle on burnout, consider surveying your employees to assess and prioritize the areas of opportunity and concern. Better understanding how burnout is impacting YOUR employees is key to addressing the issue. It’s easy to get overwhelmed, but remember, when it comes to burnout, small changes often lead to big results.

Contact the APAF Center for Workplace Mental Health at [email protected] to learn how we can help your organization tackle burnout.

Follow #MentalHealthWorks on social media to see the latest from APAF Center for Workplace Mental Health.

Gallup Report: Employee Burnout: Causes and Cures (2020)

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