In the last three years, in the role of general manager or HR manager, you practically ran a marathon whose objective was to save the business. You made decisions quickly based on context and numbers, perhaps putting people and their experiences on the back burner. And dysfunctional, even toxic, work environments where they may not be appreciated or doing what they love have led to unprecedented levels of workplace burnout, as well as increased cases of depression and anxiety. These problems add up to $1 trillion in lost productivity, according to the World Health Organization.
What can you do as a manager or HR manager to reduce the risk of burnout, as well as mental health challenges? How can you create a work environment where people feel psychologically safe and excited? Find out all the details below.
On average, one in four employees surveyed has experienced symptoms of burnout. These high rates have been observed around the world and among different demographics and are consistent with global trends. (McKinsey study, 2022)
BURNOUT NEEDS ALL YOUR ATTENTION
While people often talk about burnout when they feel tired, anxious, or stressed at work or at home, the World Health Organization (WHO) defines burnout as a syndrome “resulting from chronic stress at work that has not been managed successfully”.
It involves feelings of exhaustion, mental detachment from the job, or feelings of negativity or cynicism about the job and less effective professionally, according to the WHO.
“Many view burnout as an individual shortcoming rather than evaluating and improving the workplace environment so people can thrive,” says Christina Maslach, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
A March 2021 survey by the Society for Human Resource Management found that more than 40 percent of U.S. employees felt burned out from their work, and the problem was particularly acute among women, with nearly half reporting feeling that way. A July 2021 survey conducted by The Hartford found that more than 60 percent of U.S. employees experienced burnout, and the more stressed and burned out employees felt, the more likely they were to look for a new job.
BURNOUT IN ROMANIA
A study carried out by the Community Resource Center Foundation showed that burnout affects a considerable number of people in Romania. The study was carried out on a sample of 500 people and showed that more than 60% of respondents feel physically and emotionally exhausted from their jobs. The study also showed that a large number of people experience a lack of support from their peers and superiors, as well as a sense of unfulfillment. And a study conducted last year by one of the largest recruitment platforms in Romania shows that 2 out of 10 employees went into burnout.
The most exposed are the people from Generation Y, the millennials, who consider that their life only has meaning if it is busy, as well as those from Generation X. Among the areas that bring the most people to the burnout zone are find the banking industry and manufacturing, where there is a lot of pressure to reach the target. The productivity of an employee with burnout syndrome drops by more than 80%, according to estimates by Human Performance Development International.
SIGNS OF BURNOUT
Employees who experience burnout usually feel completely exhausted – physically, mentally, and emotionally. They may seem listless and lack the energy to do basic tasks. I may have insomnia and frequent headaches.
Lack of energy and enthusiasm to work has negative effects on productivity. You may notice less creativity, inattention to deadlines and performance goals, or significant absenteeism.
Cynicism and negativity
Increasing stress and frustration can lead employees to be cynical about their colleagues. They can be apathetic, distant, and disheartened. They may stop attending meetings, leave messages unanswered, and miss deadlines. They no longer have the enthusiasm for tackling new projects or even completing ongoing ones. They may complain frequently, stating that their work is useless or worthless.
Another sign of burnout is when employees avoid their colleagues or are no longer sociable. But some people can be introverted and quiet by nature. That is why it is worth paying attention to their behavior over a period of two to three weeks.
When a colleague experiences high levels of stress, they develop a noticeable negative attitude. However, he can also have a difficult day, so it is important to notice the negativity in the longer term.
An employee who is on the verge of burnout is dealing with a lot of emotional states that can make them feel physically ill. He may reach the stage where he can no longer get out of bed due to extreme stress and psychological overload from the job.
WHAT EXPERIENCES CAN LEAD TO BURNOUT
There are at least six aspects of work that can fuel burnout, says Christina Maslach, professor emeritus of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley.
- Job tasks or overload: high demands and few resources (such as lack of time, employees, or tools).
- Control or autonomy: feeling that they have no control over the workplace.
- Feedback: A lack of rewards or recognition for a job well done.
- Workplace community: employees not getting along or receiving needed support.
- Fairness: standards are not applied correctly or employees are not treated fairly.
- Value or Meaning: The employee feels that the work is not valued.
WELLNESS BENEFITS ARE GROWING, and BURNOUT IS MAINTAINING
Globally, four out of five HR leaders report that mental health and well-being are top priorities for their organization. Many companies offer a range of wellness benefits, such as yoga, subscriptions to meditation apps, extra days for management, and productivity classes. In fact, it is estimated that nine out of ten organizations worldwide offer some form of wellness program.
And while posting may work in the short term, if the employee returns to the same work environment, the same problems will arise.
As laudable as these efforts are, many employers focus on individual-level interventions that address the effects rather than addressing the causes of employee burnout.
To better understand the gap between employers’ efforts and the growing challenges surrounding employee mental health and well-being, between February and April 2022, McKinsey conducted a global survey of nearly 15,000 employees and 1,000 decision-makers in HR. The aspects analyzed were: toxic behavior at the workplace, sustainable work, inclusion and belonging, environment favorable to professional development, freedom from stigma, organizational commitment, management responsibility, and access to resources. These dimensions were analyzed in relation to the intention to leave, work engagement, job satisfaction, and organizational support – as well as employee mental health (symptoms of anxiety, burnout, and depression).
The McKinsey survey indicated a gap between how employees and employers perceive mental health and well-being in organizations. There is an average difference of 22 percent between employer and employee perceptions. Employers consistently rate mental health and well-being at work more favorably than employees.
TOXIC BEHAVIOR – AT THE BASIS OF BURNOUT
Across all 15 countries and across all dimensions assessed, toxic workplace behavior was the largest predictor of burnout symptoms and intention to leave by a large margin, predicting more than 60% of employee turnover globally. One in four employees reports experiencing high rates of toxic behavior at work.
The COSTS of a TOXIC BEHAVIOR
Toxic workplace behaviors are a major cost to employers, cause burnout and influence their decision to leave. In the McKinsey survey, employees who report experiencing high levels of toxic behavior at work are eight times more likely to experience burnout symptoms. In turn, respondents experiencing symptoms of burnout were six times more likely to report that they planned to leave their employer in the next three to six months. The cost of replacing employees can be up to twice their annual salary. Consider the costs associated with burnout, higher rates of sick leave and absenteeism, and work to reduce toxic workplace behavior.
The good news is that while we don’t have a predefined recipe for addressing and treating toxic behaviors there are opportunities for leaders to make meaningful changes.
HERE ARE QUESTIONS YOU SHOULD ASK YOURSELF AS A LEADER TO BRING WELL-BEING TO YOUR TEAM:
Are we treating employee mental health and well-being as a strategic priority?
This is fundamental to success. When a large organization achieved a 7% reduction in employee burnout (compared to an 11% increase in the national industry average over the same period), the CEO believed that leadership and management attention to this topic are the key to reducing burnout. Senior executives have recognized employee mental health and well-being as a strategic priority. Leaders publicly acknowledged issues and listened to employee needs through a range of formats, including workshops and employee interviews. They gave burnout equal importance with other key performance indicators (financial metrics, safety/quality, employee turnover, and customer satisfaction).
Are we effectively addressing toxic behaviors?
Eliminating toxic behavior in the workplace is no easy task. Organizations that address toxic behavior effectively implement a set of integrated work practices and see concern for well-being as an integral part of evaluating an employee’s performance. Showing toxic behavior is flagged, employees who engage in such behaviors either go to other departments or leave, and leaders take the time to become aware of the impact their behavior has on others.
Another component of eliminating toxic behavior is creating a supportive, psychologically safe work environment where toxic attitudes are less likely to spread throughout the organization. As a leader, you basically rely on emotional influence. If you display vulnerability and empathy, the team will follow you. Conversely, if you have toxic behavior, so will your team.
Are we creating an inclusive work environment?
There is a link between performance and inclusion. A truly inclusive workplace implements systems that minimize conscious and unconscious bias, allowing employees to express themselves and connect with one another. It also includes leaders who not only advocate for team members and treat them impartially but also support all organizational systems and practices that promote fairness, transparency, and inclusion.
Do we support people’s professional development?
Individual learning and development programs are effective ways to combat burnout retain and engage employees. Employers who focus on mobility, reskilling, and upskilling will see improvements in the employee experience. Studies show that providing career opportunities was two and a half times more effective and predictive of employee retention than compensation and 12 times more predictive than promotions. This is a signal to leaders that they can help reduce burnout by supporting employees’ desires to learn, explore, and develop beyond traditional career progression. This approach shows appreciation for the people on your team and for their important role in the company.
Are we promoting sustainable work?
Sustainable work is not just about managing workload. It means giving colleagues a sense of control and predictability, flexibility, and enough time for daily relaxation. It is also about leadership with empathy, about adapting decisions to where, when, and how people work. To find solutions that work for your team, test and learn. This way you can make progress as a leader and contribute to the company’s progress and adaptation to an ever-changing context.
How do we support leaders to, in turn, pay attention to the emotional health of colleagues?
Team leaders are the ones who have the most interactions with people on a daily basis and deserve to be supported so that they in turn support the mental health and well-being of employees. Give them training to help them identify issues related to employee mental health and ask the right questions to identify the emotional needs of colleagues. Discussions about employee mental health and well-being can be incorporated into one-to-one meetings. To encourage leaders to lead by example and increase their accountability in the area of burnout prevention, some employers include in anonymous questionnaires questions about how leaders support employees’ mental health and create targets for leaders on this aspect.
How do we address bias?
Perhaps the main fear that people do not talk about their emotional problems is that they will be judged or discriminated against. Thus, people end up not looking for help, lose their self-esteem, and are no longer involved in their work at work. And in this case, leadership by example can work. Leaders can step forward and describe their emotional challenges using non-stigmatizing language. Leaders who show vulnerability help reduce co-workers’ fears of talking about emotional issues and promote a psychologically safe culture.
You can also create a dedicated role within the company to support the mental health and well-being of employees, such as a wellness officer. This way you will increase the degree of awareness of emotional aspects and colleagues will have more courage to talk about them and be open to managing their states, with the support provided by the company.
Are the benefits offered by the company tailored to people’s needs?
More and more employers have expanded access to mental health services; however, research shows that almost 70% of employees find it difficult to access these services.
In one survey 45% of respondents who left their job cited the need to take care of family as an influential factor in their decision. Offering benefits for childcare (such as daycare fees) or housekeeping (paying a housekeeper) can take some of the pressure off people now and make them re-evaluate the job in a positive way.
In the role of manager or HR coordinator, it’s important to pay attention to the emotional mood of the people in the team and take a preventive approach focused on the causes and not the symptoms. This way you can retain talent and build a solid employer brand. Through collaboration and shared commitment, the company can make a difference in the lives of colleagues and the community.