Break Free From Burnout
I’ve been doing a little research on burnout, which started after my friend, Crystal Richards invited me to speak on a panel about burnout at her Indoor Recess for Project Managers earlier this month. I noticed more people in my life talking about burnout––clients, friends, and family members. According to Gallup, 35% of managers report feeling burned out, whereas 27% of individual contributors report burnout. It’s a relevant topic this Mental Health Awareness month, which is coming to a close.
Burnout is related to work, and it can happen in any occupation. It’s that sense of powerlessness to achieve your goals and cope with the demands of work, which can alter your view of the workplace. I like to use the following definition for burnout: Physical and emotional exhaustion as a result of prolonged stress and frustration. Burnout is not classified as a medical condition. However, the World Health Organization classifies burnout as an occupational phenomenon, saying “Burnout is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”.
Gallup reports people feeling burned out are more likely to take sick days, they often do not reach out to their managers, and they are more likely to search for another job. One in five people who experience burnout feel less confident in their performance, which often becomes a self-fulfilling prophesy. In 2021 The Conference Board surveyed 1,800 people––a combination of remote workers, hybrid workers, and fully office based workers. Burnout was roughly the same across the board. Of those surveyed, 57% said their mental health had worsened since the pandemic due to workload. More than 75% listed stress and burnout as one of their biggest well-being challenges at work, an increase from 55% reporting mental well-being concerns six months prior. One third of those surveyed had lower engagement, decreased sense of belonging and lower mental health levels. These numbers and other data about burnout is alarming. How do we “successfully manage” chronic workplace stress?
It starts with our managers. Direct managers have the greatest impact on employees and how they feel about work. How are your managers being supported, especially mid-managers who are often completing the workload of individual contributors in addition to leading? Are they empowered to regularly evaluate work to identify anything that can be reduced, postponed or abandoned that isn’t critical to the business? Do they have trusted relationships with their employees? Have your frontline managers been trained to notice mental health signs? Do they know how to refer employees to your Employee Assistance Program (EAP) or HR? I fully recognize there is a lot of pressure on our managers. More than ever, they are expected to be more empathetic, great listeners, developmental coaches, retain employees, and ensure the work gets done. When managers are equipped with the training and tools they need, they can reduce stress that contributes to employee burnout.
Well-being is imperative to your workplace culture. Organizations can evaluate systemic challenges related to burnout. Are the goals and expectations reasonable or out of reach unless everyone is burning out? Do client expectations need a reset? I’m all about high expectations and giving people some stretch and even a little discomfort for growth––but not 24/7. How do your organizational policies contribute to a burnout culture? Does PTO mean “Pretend Time Off” in your organization? Employees need to take their personal time off without guilt or checking email while out of the office. Employees also need to be able to speak up about challenging workload levels without retaliation. However, it’s not always psychologically safe to do so, and employees often continue working beyond reasonable expectations silently.
Consider bringing in a wellness expert to help you evaluate your organization’s well-being programs and create a better balance for employees. Productivity will follow! Check out Yes Wellbeing Works for supporting your corporate well-being evaluation and in creating sustainable programs that promote employee well-being.
If you are personally experiencing burnout and you are convinced that it’s time to make a job or career move, let’s talk about how I can support you with coaching or my Jump Start Your Job Search program. But first, rest, and take a little time to find out if you can reclaim your passion and interest in your work. If you are seeing signs of burnout on your team, let’s discuss a team retreat or another activity to reset. Please contact me to discuss options.