By Cheryl Lynn Dratler
Burnout is serious, and it’s a formidable enemy of sustained engagement and productivity. Some executives are investing in interventions to counter the consequences of burnout. Their concern goes well beyond caring about employees – it’s also smart business.
Unfortunately, some of our best business practices got us here. Decades of streamlining, increasing technology, and global competition have created environments that foster burnout. The very efforts that increased efficiency are depleting our workforce and reducing effectiveness.
Kensington International is helping organizations to assess and address engagement issues in order to prevent burnout. Companies investing in preventative measures to keep their employees happy, healthy and engaged are seeing increased production and a positive impact on the success of their organization.
What is burnout?
Burnout occurs in every sector and every industry. Entrepreneurs, executives, engineers, social workers, financial professionals, graphic artists, first responders, sales professionals and customer support staff all burn out in significant numbers.
What’s worse, it is often the brightest, most dedicated, talented, and energetic employees who burn out. Career burnout occurs from the board room to the front line. It affects those who are passionate about what they do, the strivers and drivers in business.
The very attitudes and qualities that make some people highly valuable may make them vulnerable. Individuals who get severe burnout lose the passion and sense purpose they started their careers with. They end up depleted, disillusioned and disengaged. They become lethargic, negative and ineffective.
This is more than a personal problem for employees. Greek researchers reported cognitive impairments of burnout such as deficits in attention and memory impairments. Symptoms include the inability to concentrate, short and long term memory problems, decreased accuracy/higher error rates, and difficulty with problem solving and analytical tasks.
Mental, emotion and physical exhaustion and unresolved stress lead to increased illness, absenteeism and “presenteeism” (being present at work but unproductive due to illness, lack of energy, focus, motivation, or work overload). Individuals’ diminished confidence undermines initiative and follow-through.
Cynicism and negative attitudes toward others sets in. Relationships with clients and colleagues suffer as do efforts involving service, cooperation, and collaboration. Safety is compromised as workers experience attention lapses or lack the energy or interest in ‘doing things right’.
Job performance and ability to handle stress spiral downward as the symptoms continuously interact and exacerbate each other. This is a business problem.
How can we prevent or fix burnout?
There IS GOOD NEWS. Burnout is reversible. Even better, engagement is the mirror opposite of burnout. Increasing engagement is both the cure for and the benefit of reducing burnout.
Burnout varies across and within organizations. There is no standardized way of evaluating specific causes and costs of burnout on safety, work quality, individual and team productivity, customer satisfaction, or the bottom line.
While this does make it legitimately difficult for businesses to assess and address, every effort to mitigate burnout will result in increased effectiveness and engagement. And every sustained effort to create cultures that build engagement and restore energy will reduce burnout and its costs.
Effective initiatives at the individual and organizational levels are proving successful. Companies are partnering with experts to design customized assessments of structures, stressors, and conditions that impair engagement and lead top performers to burn out. Quality assessment enables organizations to pinpoint structural, cultural, and developmental goals for maximum impact.
From job redesign to career management programs, companies are ensuring that employees stay engaged by providing stimulating challenges, fostering growth, increasing career opportunities and enhancing business and personal skills.
Change management skills for leaders, managers, and employees reduce stress and increase buy-in, allowing companies to adapt and move forward quickly. Programs to improve individual skills in stress management, time management, job-specific competencies, and even mindfulness, have proven effective in counteracting burnout.
Team building activities, conflict resolution, consensus building, and communication training enhance employee engagement, investment, and success. Team environments that promote trust, confidence, and respect mitigate negative effects and pressure of high performance expectations. Research indicates that strong interpersonal relationships with co-workers is one of the most powerful antidotes for stress and burnout.
Enhancing current leader capabilities through leadership development can empower managers with advanced competencies in coaching, delegating, mentoring, motivating, and performance management. Positive leadership increases engagement and reduces negative impact of burnout.
Leaders that foster cultures of trust, interpersonal relationships, safety, creativity, and an investment in the goals and mission can inspire employees to produce and sustain high performance over many years. Leaders who prioritize and model self-care and rejuvenation instill these ‘safeguard behaviors’ in their reports.
Cultures that emphasize development, communication, fairness, and meaning and purpose sustain engagement and effort and outperform the competition now and over the long-term. Preventing and fixing burnout doesn’t happen by accident, but by regular assessment and strategic investment.