Burnout in the workplace is real, and during Covid it only got worse. A survey by careers site Indeed, conducted earlier this year, found that more than half of workers said they felt burned out, and more than two-thirds said they felt worse during the pandemic.
The good news: The world of work takes it seriously.
While Sweden is the only country to recognize burnout as a disease, the World Health Organization added burnout as a professional phenomenon in 2019. Research shows the condition is far more complex than just a heavy workload, but companies, from Nike to online dating company Bumble, recently offered office workers extra time off from work to support their mental health and address the issue to tackle burnout.
Dealing with burnout – and preventing future burnout – is a challenge all businesses face now with many workers working from home for 19 months.
Research by workplace burnout expert Jennifer Moss found that the average person says 14 times a week that they are fine when asked how they are, but lies 19% of the time.
(Photo: Getty | Maria Korneeva)
Jennifer Moss, author of the new book The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It, recently spoke to CNBC’s Workforce Executive Council about strategies employers and employees can implement to reduce burnout.
“The future of work is here, and that means we have to test some new rules,” said Moss.
Burnout needs to be addressed in the workplace
Burnout is not considered a mental illness, but it is a mental problem and needs to be treated appropriately in the workplace.
Moss said executives require “trust and flexibility” in the workplace. Creating safe spaces, providing psychological safety and resources, and prioritizing employee mental health will benefit workers and company productivity, she said. And any efforts to invest in employee wellbeing will be reflected in business results, but they have to start from the top. The first job of a manager is to give workers permission to make their mental health a priority.
“The key to [creating] Organizational comfort is allowed to give priority to mental health, “Moss said.
Their research shows that while the average person says they are fine 14 times a week when asked how they are, they lie 19% of the time.
Asking employees more specific questions to better assess their performance will be reflected in their professional work. Moss says while most meetings last too long and wait for non-essential topics, a 15-minute meeting per week between managers and employees can pay off in terms of mental wellbeing and work productivity, and it shouldn’t focus solely on work topics .
Among the key questions Moss says should be covered in a short meeting:
- How was this week
- What were the ups and downs?
- What can I do for you next week to make it easier?
- What can we do for each other?
“It’s that simple,” she said.
Talking about mental health in the workplace creates open communication and a safe environment where employees feel connected to their work and their leaders, she says, and also helps employees achieve their goals. It helps managers better understand what their employees need to be more productive.
“Simple repetitive actions are synonymous with positive outcomes for wellbeing,” said Moss.
Work stress, a new idea of success and the great resignation
More companies are concerned about the impact the “Great Resignation” has on their workforce, and Moss said capturing burnout and employees’ desire to better connect with their work and values is part of the analysis in the effort must be for employee loyalty.
“The hyper-use of technology of not meeting people in person without connection [workers] emotionally of what is important to us within the organization, “said Moss.
The past year of the pandemic has allowed people to develop what Moss calls “cognitive gratitude,” which means employees can focus on what matters most.
“That’s why we see the mass resignations. I want more from my manager, more from my leader,” she said. Many people make different life choices than they would have before the pandemic and define success in new ways.
In a way, the pandemic has also disintegrated the “we” versus “them” mentality between workers and managers, as companies as a whole have faced the same challenges, and that’s positive, Moss said. It should also increase managers’ willingness to be open with teams.
“Executives should also be transparent about their struggles,” she said. “It’s not healthy to be stoic.”
Executives are exhausted too – “Exhausted leaders leading exhausted teams,” Moss said, referring to the name of a talk she is giving. She added that interventions she has conducted within organizations show that most managers currently don’t really know what their direct reports are doing because they are so busy themselves.
The transparency of the 15-minute meetings, “the constant communication,” prevents teams from being “thrown off the rails,” Moss said, and “that changes the inefficiencies that reduce workload, which reduces burnout.”
Managers also need to know how to guide people to resources. Businesses are prioritizing mental health due to the pandemic, but many organizations have had and have not used mental health resources for years. Moss said it is important that leaders communicate what mental health programs and resources are available to employees, rather than feeling like they need to be a mental health professional to do so.
Moss said she learned from interviews with managers that they are often concerned about speaking to workers on the subject without being a mental health expert, and “that has led them to close”.
“I keep telling them not to be a mental health expert, but I want you to know where these mental health experts exist in your organization. “Managers just have to be able to point people in the right direction.”