In May 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) made headlines when it announced its identification of burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” stemming from “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”1 Today, organizations are challenged with a burned out, exhausted, and less-than- efficient workforce. Does this sound familiar?
Employees are calling in sick, they’re low energy or disengaged, and meanwhile, leaders continue to grapple with turnover. Leaders like you are suffering, too, yet the work you’re doing is too important to take pause — those at your organization work hard to make a difference.
The good news is there are some emerging, innovative strategies that might be worth considering, such as conducting stay interviews and hosting more customized management training focused on mental health topics.
Symptoms of Burnout
We’ve all had those days — it’s morning, time to get up, and you just don’t want to get out of bed. Sometimes that sluggish pace is attributed to a bad case of the Mondays, but when employees with growing discontent walk into the workplace every day, it can quickly spread from one employee to the next.
According to WHO’s most recent definition, symptoms of burnout include:
- Increased cynicism and/or negativity
- Feelings of inadequacy on the job
Unfortunately, it doesn’t stop there. Long-term stress leads to physical manifestations as well. When the body responds to burnout, according to “Your Body Knows You’re Burned Out” by The New York Times, it can show up in the form of fatigue, insomnia, changing appetite levels (up or down), headaches, and stomachaches.2 Hair loss is also a symptom for some. And then there are the effects to the brain, which Dr. Sanjay Gupta shared in a recent episode of his podcast “Chasing Life” — these sadly impact mood, decision-making, our ability to process emotions, and memory.3
“What makes burnout so dangerous isn’t the stress, it’s the chronic, nonstop element of stress without the opportunity to recover,” author Rahaf Harfoush shared in her recent interview with Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Take a listen here.
As an employer, it’s not always easy to identify the root cause, especially when you’re concerned about the workforce as a whole. Sometimes it’s the things that build up over time that intensify burnout like staffing shortages and training needs, to name a few. Additionally, employees have their own families to care for and face a host of other stressors: relationships, childcare challenges, financial concerns, caregiving, the list goes on. At Portico, we know this is the incredible burden that comes with caring for others.
What Can Employers Do?
As leaders, the first step is to recognize that burnout is not an issue that rests solely on the individual. Burnout is an organizational issue that requires more than quick fixes.
When the American Psychological Association (APA) confirmed that America is, in fact, stressed out with its 2021 “Work and Well-being Survey,” 87% of working adults reported that they believed actions by their employer could help their mental health. Accordingly, respondents mentioned the following as possible solutions:
- Offering flexible hours (34%)
- Encouraging employees to take care of their health (32%)
- Encouraging employees to use paid time off (30%)
- Encouraging breaks during the workday (30%)
In addition, Benefits Pro reports that leaders themselves need to possess strength in soft skills including optimism, compassion, and empathy because being around contagious positivity impacts the environment, and may help employees feel more connected while steering them clear of the burnout trap.5
Tailored Mental Health Training Through EAP
One solution for tackling burnout might be to schedule specialized mental health training to give your leaders tools for navigating or inspiring an overwhelmed workforce. Portico’s Employee Assistance Program (EAP) provider, Beacon Health Options, works closely with employers on custom-tailored training.
Beacon trainers can design one-hour seminars (virtual or in-person) on the content that’s most relevant to your team and their current challenges. Mental health topics include, but are not limited to:
- Compassion fatigue
- Dealing with mental illness
- Managing stress
- Positive thinking
- Best practices for supporting others
*Contact your Portico representative for more information and applicable fees.
Learn What’s Really Going on with Stay Interviews
Another creative way for employers to address burnout is the stay interview. While exit interviews have become commonplace within companies and organizations, it’s the stay interviews that may present a better opportunity for leaders to really hear their employees, establish trust and open communication, and show concern — before anyone decides to leave.
As you take time to check in, you might focus a portion of your questions on mental health, asking:
- How are you doing?
- What is the most draining part about your job?
- Is there anything we can do better to support your mental health?
- What are you noticing about stress levels within your team?
- What is most life-giving in your role?
You might be surprised by what you learn! And employees may leave these discussions feeling more empowered by what they, too, can do to more actively participate in addressing burnout.
It’s true, employees everywhere are struggling. You and other leaders may be, too. At Portico, we want to help you tackle burnout head on, and are committed to supporting you and your staff with services and programs that will help improve workplace morale so you can keep your focus on transforming lives.
1Burn-out an Occupational Phenomenon: International Classification of Diseases. World Health Organization. Retrieved April 14, 2022, https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases
2Wenner Moyer, Melinda (2022). Your Body Knows You’re Burned Out. Nytimes.com. Retrieved Feb. 17, 2022, from http://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/15/well/live/burnout-work-stress.html
3Your Work is Your Life. Interview by Dr. Sanjay Gupta. Chasing Life, CNN Audio, March 8, 2022. https://www.cnn.com/audio/podcasts/chasing-life/episodes/5e679f46-97b1-435f-913b-ae51016fce75
42021 Work and Well-being Survey. American Psychological Association. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/pubs/reports/work-well-being/compounding-pressure-2021
5Schulz, Kathleen (2022). Yoga Won’t Cure Burnout. Benefitspro.com. Retrieved April 14, 2022, from https://www.benefitspro.com/2022/02/16/yoga-wont-cure-burnout/
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