Written by: Adam Markel, Executive Contributor
Executive Contributors at Brainz Magazine are handpicked and invited to contribute because of their knowledge and valuable insight within their area of expertise.
It’s estimated that burnout costs the world economy $500 billion every year.
In corporate settings, the root cause of continuous or underlying issues can be difficult to pinpoint. What we often see emerge as repeat problems, like a lack of engagement and productivity, usually has a deeper driver. And in many cases, the root cause is burnout.
Simply put: when your people are tired, your business feels it.
The Point of No Return
Corporate assumptions would tell us that employees working under pressure perform at a higher output rate. However, in reality, the pattern of stress and extended pressure leaves no space for recuperation. When employees reach this point it becomes very difficult to bounce back. In many ways, burnout is the point of no return.
Discovering the Spiral
What begins as being overworked or stressed out at work spirals into burnout. Once the spiral begins, employees are no longer innovating. Their creative energy is zapped and their critical thinking skills are shutting down. Mental exhaustion directly affects these skill sets, which are all key factors affecting an employee’s ability to perform at higher levels.
In action, this might look like:
An employee struggling to solve a simple problem when problem-solving is typically a strong suit for them.
A lack of creative ideas in meetings or brainstorming sessions.
A vocal employee who quits speaking up.
Burnout causes employees to feel stressed, resentful and like they have nothing left to give. Their tank is empty and you can see it in the way they show up each day.
What Can Be Done?
If you’re beginning to notice pivots, like the ones mentioned above, let’s talk about what you can do to stop the spiral and create a more resilient culture. There are simple rituals you can build into everyday routines, to check-in on a regular basis, and hopefully avoid the burnout spiral for your staff.
Priorities and Time Sinks
When I used to work a very corporate job, there were reports and meetings and reports for the meetings. It all became too much because there was so much time being spent on things that were not moving anything forward. This alone can make employees feel very hopeless. Take an honest look at what can be eliminated. From there, as your teams pivot into new projects and objectives, make sure you are getting rid of things from past objectives that are no longer necessary. Adding more and more without taking anything away will lead to exhaustion and eventually burnout.
Incorporate a daily or weekly check-in so it becomes a ritual to review each person's workload, removing unnecessary tasks. This will give them permission to focus on the important tasks and get rid of the ones that don’t matter. Now they know what to expect from their day and week, and they have clear expectations from you as well.
Rest Is Required
If anything positive came from the shutdown that accompanied the pandemic, it was the refocus on rest. Slowing life down to a halt puts a spotlight on how little we actually pause and reset. When it was time to reenter normal life, many chose not to. Being overworked and skipping vacation time used to be a badge so many in the corporate world wore proudly.
Here’s what that looks like on paper:
The US ranks at the bottom when it comes to providing paid time off for employees.
The US is the only country in the Organization for Economic Co-Operation (out of 37 total countries) that does not mandate paid vacation.
One in five employees reported feeling guilty for taking just one day off.
The problem appears to be widespread and shifting away from this mindset is vital to interrupting the burnout spiral. When leaders don’t set the tone or talk about the benefits of rest, employees assume the worst and become reluctant to schedule this time off.
Encourage staff to vacation, use personal days and to truly disconnect during that time. Working on vacation or breaks means true rest isn’t happening. Employees should know that there is no punishment or judgment for them taking time to reset. On top of that, when an employee can see that you are invested in their well-being, you’re likely to reduce turnover and resentment as well.
Set Boundaries and Stick to Them
If email responses are expected after hours or work days have no real cut-off, there’s a good chance you’ve got team members on their way to or in the burnout spiral. Your staff needs clear expectations, yes, but also very clear boundaries. If the work day ends at 6 pm, hold everyone accountable to that. Let them know they are expected to log out and stay logged out.
By creating boundaries, you’re also creating space for balance. When so many of us began working from home full-time, these lines seemed to blur even more. Because home was work and work was home, disconnecting from the incoming flow of email and work-related requests became much more difficult. More work does not equal more productivity. In fact, we are finding the opposite to be true. Companies with clear boundaries see higher retention rates, increased applicants and higher output that translates into revenue.
At the end of the workday, no employee should feel stressed and overwhelmed to the point of burnout. Identifying the warning signs of burnout and what that spiral looks like is a great first step. Implementing rituals and practices to prevent the spiral is vital to the longevity and sustainability of your organization.
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Adam Markel, Executive Contributor Brainz Magazine
Bestselling author, keynote speaker, workplace expert and resilience researcher Adam Markel inspires leaders to master the challenges of massive disruption in his new book, “Change Proof — Leveraging the Power of Uncertainty to Build Long-Term Resilience” (McGraw-Hill, Feb. 22, 2022). Adam is author of the #1 Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Los Angeles Times, and Publisher’s Weekly bestseller, “Pivot: The Art & Science of Reinventing Your Career and Life.” Learn more at AdamMarkel.com.