Back in 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified worker burnout as chronic workplace stress that isn’t managed.
The stress leads to:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
- reduced professional efficacy.
Today, three years later, a recent Microsoft Work Trend Index Pulse report, shows “the number of meetings per week had increased by 153% globally for the average Microsoft Teams user since the start of the pandemic, and there is still no indication that this trend has reversed … On top of an already high meeting load, overlapping meetings (being double-booked) increased by 46% per person in the past year. And users are flooded with meeting invites – even as the overall meeting acceptance rate has remained fairly steady (growing by only 3%), declines and tentative RSVPs have soared in the past two years (84% and 216% growth, respectively). The strain is clear: in an average week, 42% of participants multitask during meetings by actively sending an email or ping – and that doesn’t include practices like reading incoming emails and pings, working in non-meeting files or web activity.”
Worker burnout costs money. Losing good employees, and then hiring and onboarding new ones is expensive, and takes time and resources.
Solving the burnout problem now
Worker burnout and general stress reduction don’t have one single solution or even a one-size-fits-all strategy. The culture of a healthcare facility is wholly different from a management consulting firm or a state government agency. However, HR departments can tackle the problem from three fronts: top-level organization, management empowerment and employee agency.
Conducting an organizational audit provides companies with a deep dive into its critical functions including mission, controls, personnel, productivity, leadership, finances, customer service, technology and more.
While financial audits and employee evaluations are common, what’s missing are the structures and culture surrounding the money and the people.
The Microsoft Work Trend Index Pulse reports, “85% of leaders say that the shift to hybrid work has made it challenging to have confidence that employees are being productive.” Yet, 87% of employees say they feel productive whether they are in the office or working hybrid or fully remote.
However, these packages are expensive to implement and take time to monitor. They also add a big brother is watching you vibe that can be a culture killer. These programs don’t capture the productivity of an employee who hand drafts a report, spends the day in meetings or does their best development during walks outside. Companies can increase employee motivation and prevent burnout with more frequent and positive check-ins and evaluations.
Before a company spends time, money and goodwill tracking employees, it should conduct an audit to determine actual productivity issues. A well-defined mission, stated goals, leadership training, communication channels, performance standards, psychological safety, and social and emotional structures in the workplace are essential to any organization’s success.
Have meetings in your company increased as the Microsoft trend analysis reports? Are managers struggling with burnout?
At the manager, team and employee levels, one of the most effective strategies is learning to set boundaries and evaluate if every meeting is necessary.
No one wants to be seen as unable to rise to the occasion. Yet the reality of always saying yes means something else will suffer. Yes to a last-minute request, may delay scheduled projects causing staff to work longer hours or over the weekend. That cuts into family and vacation time, and can have negative health consequences.
Does your organization have a culture where it’s safe to say no? Are employees supported to set boundaries, spread workloads, re-establishes expectations, and alert higher-ups when limited resources (including time) are making projects difficult to complete?
Managers should be empowered to say no on behalf of their teams and to their teams, and bring grievances to executive leadership and work to implement solutions.
Employees have responsibilities too and they should be written into onboarding materials and handbooks, and discussed in training and evaluations. And employees must take responsibility for their work-life balance. That’s difficult these days if work now happens at home.
If employees are working from home, they may need guidance on best practices to prioritize working during business hours and logging out at day’s end to prevent work from creeping into personal time.
Setting boundaries also means declining meetings or at the least asking for clarification as to why someone has been invited and the expected contribution. Boundaries mean not over-promising, and then not delivering and disappointing a client and derailing projects.
The bottom line is organizations that invest in understanding the functions of their teams, empower management and promote communication skills while creating a culture of respect and trust, will see better balance sheets and avoid employee burnout and turnover.