There are some problems we can’t fight alone, and burnout is one of them. It seems like everyone is voicing their opinion and talking about the topic, so how do you filter through the noise to support managers, senior leaders and individual contributors? As a careers practitioner focusing on wellbeing and burnout, I joined forces with a fellow expert, Jennifer Moss, the forthcoming author of The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It. Burnout is one of our biggest threats, but it also presents an opportunity to build a resilient culture where belonging and holistic career growth thrive.
Rachel Montañez: What are you currently working on?
Jennifer Moss: I just finished the manuscript for The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It, and it’s in pre-sale, but it will be in hands in September. So that has been amazing. It’s also been a moment of realization of how hard it is to write a book during this pandemic, especially juggling three kids. I have also been consulting and doing a lot of talks on workplace wellbeing and culture.
Montañez: You recently tweeted, “Leaders, we have endured a trial by fire, and there’s no turning back. We did not experience this crash course in emotional flexibility, only to squander the learning. We have a shot at truly preventing burnout.” How did the pandemic make burnout worse for organizations?
Moss: It has exacerbated existing problems that haven’t been fixed. There was this sort of forced social and workplace experiment that happened, pushing the future of work about a decade up. People might have been putting off their technical infrastructure or trying to fix some of the systemic issues that were already problems. Things like meeting fatigue and workload have been a major source of stress and burnout for people for a long time, and then you throw this situation on where there’s this collective trauma where there’s so much chronic stress, it’s happening to everyone all at once.
Montañez: What advice would you give to an organization that wants to create a wellbeing strategy?
Moss: Well, I think first, know what are wellbeing tactics and what are burnout prevention strategies. So often, we use wellbeing strategies when we need preventive measures. We may give everyone an app like a wellness app, increase gym membership subsidies or provide meals for people and all of these different tools that are really excellent for optimization. It’s actually imperative for us to have self-care still.
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But when organizations don’t realize that a root cause of burnout is based on inequity like a wage gap, chronic overwork and legacy of overwork, it’s steep in privilege to suggest that an employee say no to more work. I mean, there’s so much bias and history around just saying no, and we get that recommendation a lot.
As well as understanding the root causes of burnout, all direct managers need to have a mental health 101 and understand where all of their support systems are inside the workplace. We found in our research that those of the respondents that said that they couldn’t talk about mental health at work, 67% of them were more at risk of burnout or burning out. Managers should be able to have transparent conversations and create a culture of psychological safety with their employees.
Montañez: What data do organizations need to track if they want to create burnout-proof cultures?
Moss: In our research, we also found that people were exhausted, which is just normal. I mean, this is an exhausting time. But what was more sort of unsettling about our data was that people were feeling cynical. Cynicism is worrisome because it makes people feel like there’s no control over how they feel, and it’s not getting better. And so, we really do need to be collecting data around how people predict they’re going to feel three months from now. Do they feel like this too shall pass? A level of helplessness and hopelessness inside of organizations is very dangerous. It’s dangerous for our health in general.
Also, understanding which groups are feeling like they don’t see an end in sight.
Montanez: I recently wrote a piece on how to help women of color with burnout. How do women experience burnout?
Moss: Women, in general, are suffering more than their male counterparts. Some of that boils down to emotional exhaustion, then juggling the demands at home or issues related to their role. Women tend to be more likely to be micromanaged, and they’re less likely to make decisions and feel safe in making those decisions and speaking up.
Here are some recent findings on women and burnout:
According to LinkedIn’s People Success Platform Glint,
Smaller organizations (those with up to 1,000 employees): Women cited an overwhelming workload 28% more frequently than men.
Leadership level (manager and higher): Women cited an overwhelming workload 41% more frequently than men.
CNBC and SurveyMonkey Women at Work recently surveyed 6,821 U.S. adults.
Over half (53%) of women say their mental health suffers to the point of burnout because of their jobs, all or some of the time.
Less than one-third of women today are “very satisfied” with the amount of career growth available to them at their current job.
According to the World Health Organization, burnout is an occupational problem. We, therefore, need to approach it through a career lens, especially when there are constant echoes of that last data point. So far, our attempts to manage and prevent burnout are still scratching the surface. Do you currently have burnout prevention strategies and measures throughout your entire employee-experience circle? Or, is it an after-thought? We must begin to ask ourselves reflective coaching-style questions, and here’s one: What is the purpose of eradicating burnout? Who and what your answer focuses on will tell you how close you are to succeeding.