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The burnout breaking point: why it’s time for a change in the workplace

July 14 / Australia

In the past year, more than one-third of US employees have worked from their homes. Meanwhile, millions lost their jobs and were quickly thrust into economic vulnerability. 

The year 2020 became all about video meetings, minimal social interaction, and wearing jogging bottoms pretty much all day. The result? An already burned-out workforce is reaching a breaking point. 

What is burnout? 

Burnout is what happens to the body and mind when someone is under chronic stress in the workplace. The 3 main symptoms of burnout are exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy. 

While the rate of burnout increased significantly during the COVID-19 pandemic, it is not a new phenomenon: in fact, burnout was coined by a psychoanalyst in the 1970s. It’s a decades-old issue that is especially relevant with the COVID-19 pandemic. 

What’s going on with the workforce? 

In a recent global study by Harvard Business Review, 89% of respondents said their lives were getting worse, 85% said their well-being had declined, and 62% reported that they were struggling to manage their workload and had experienced burnout in the past 3 months. 

According to Bloomberg, the worldwide workday has increased an average of 48 minutes since the start of COVID-19 lockdowns. The number of emails sent and received has gone up. The number of meetings per person increased 13% in the first few months of the pandemic. And then there’s Zoom fatigue: workers are feeling an additional level of exhaustion due to an increased amount of video meetings. It’s no wonder employees are feeling stressed. 

Why are stress and burnout big problems? 

Work-related stress causes 120,000 deaths per year in the United States. At an individual level, burnout is mentally, physically and emotionally damaging. Stress and uncertainty also greatly impact the success of an organisation, negatively affecting everything from talent retention to innovation and revenue. 

In 2019, burnout was officially recognised as an “occupational phenomenon” by the World Health Organization. In other words, it’s on businesses to help fix this problem. 

Today’s businesses have an important opportunity: help reduce burnout and build resilience in their workplace. Their success depends on it. According to BetterUp, “Research shows that resilience can be a powerful buffer that enables organisations to remain profitable and competitive even during turbulent times.” 

What organisations can do to increase resilience and reduce burnout 

The key to creating a more resilient workforce is approaching the issue as an organisation, not just at the individual level. 

While providing wellness benefits and encouraging employees to practice self-care is important, it’s crucial that organisations take on the onus of reducing burnout for their employees and strategize how to structurally increase resilience. Focus on these 3 actions to get started:

Communicate

It’s important to set realistic and achievable goals not only as a business but also as teams and managers. “Burnout … prevention requires manager and organisational alignment,” Gallup says. As an organisation, establish expectations for output and practices to support all employees. 

Deloitte encourages leaders to “Maintain reasonable and flexible expectations for workforce adaptation when the crisis begins to resolve, and support workers who may need additional time and interventions for stress mitigation.” Widely communicate what those expectations are regularly, at stressful times and in less intense situations. 

Connect

Workplace isolation can drive burnout. Create opportunities for meaningful connection and collaboration for employees. Beyond day-to-day work, this could also include spaces for peer connection. Some of the most successful support services established at companies include facilitating or encouraging peer-driven support groups for employees. 

Engage

To increase resilience, establish psychological safety throughout the workplace. According to Deloitte, this entails “the condition of candour, or trusting and feeling respected … without fear of negative consequences.” This climate also sets the stage for increased employee engagement and collaboration, and it creates a safe space to respond to a crisis. 

As an organisation, practice regular employee engagement exercises, and have supporting managers do the same for their teams. 

After an unprecedented year with so many people working from home, organisations have a lot to consider as they return to the workplace. Uber for Business can help make the transition better. Learn more here