Work burnout is a real phenomenon that many of us experience, and during the Covid pandemic, it only got worse. A survey from careers site Indeed conducted during the spring found more than half of workers saying they felt burned out, and more than two-thirds saying the feeling had gotten worse throughout the pandemic.
The good news is that we are beginning to take the issue more seriously.
While Sweden is currently the only country in the world to recognize work burnout as a disease, the World Health Organization added burnout as an occupational phenomenon in 2019. Research shows the condition is a lot more complex than just a heavy workload, but businesses, from Nike to online dating company Bumble, have recently offered office employees extra time off of work to support their mental health.
Jennifer Moss, author of the new book, “The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It,” recently spoke with 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 need to test some new rules out,” Moss said.
Burnout needs to be treated in the workplace
Burnout is not considered a mental health illness, but it is certainly a mental health issue, and needs to be treated as such in workplace environments, Moss believes.
She said that progress on the issue requires leaders to “trust employees and create flexibility” in the workplace. Creating safe spaces, offering psychological safety and resources, and prioritizing employees mental health will benefit workers and business productivity, Moss explained. And any effort made to invest in employee well-being will show up in business results.
“The key to [creating] comfort inside organizations is being permitted to prioritize mental health,” Moss said.
Her research finds that while the average person says they are “fine” 14 times a week when they are asked how they are doing, 19% of the time they are lying.
Asking workers more specific questions to better assess how they are doing, will translate into their professional work, Moss found. For example, she believes that most meetings go on for too long and cover too many non-essential issues. Instead, a 15-minute meeting a week between managers and employees can pay off in terms of both mental wellness and job productivity.
Among the key questions Moss says should be covered in a short meeting:
- How was this week?
- What were the highs and lows?
- What can I do for you next week to make things easier?
- What can we do for each other?
Talking about mental health in the workplace establishes open communication and a safe environment for employees to feel connected to their work and to their leaders, Moss says, and also helps employees to reach their work goals.
“Simple actions done with repetition equal positive wellbeing outcomes,” she said.
Work stress, a new idea of success, and the Great Resignation
An increasing number of companies are worried about the impact of the so-called “Great Resignation” on their workforce, and Moss said focusing on burnout and employees’ desire to better relate to their jobs and values has to be part of the strategy in employee retention efforts.
“The hyper use of technology, not meeting people in person disconnected [workers] emotionally from what we care about inside the organization,” Moss said.
“That’s why we are seeing the mass resignations. I want more from my manager, more from my leader,” she added.
Furthermore, many people are making different life choices than they would have made pre-pandemic, and defining success in new ways.
In some ways, the pandemic has dissolved the “we” versus “them” mentality between workers and managers, as organizations as a whole have faced the same challenges, and that is a positive, Moss said. It should also make managers more willing to be open with teams.
“Leaders should be transparent about their struggles as well,” she said. “It is not healthy to remain stoic.”
Leaders also need to know how to direct employees to resources. Companies are prioritizing mental health because of the pandemic, but many organizations have had mental health resources available for years and not taken advantage of them. Moss said it is important for leaders to communicate what programs and mental health resources are available to employees and should not feel that they need to be a mental health expert to do so.
“I keep telling them you are not meant to be a mental health expert, but you are meant to know where those mental health experts exist in your organization. You are a conduit,” Moss said, adding that also extends to knowing about community resources. “Managers just need to be able to point people in the right direction.”