Course-Correcting Systemic Burnout

Have you ever felt like you hit a wall? Not on a certain task, but in your work life overall? If you’re like most people, you’ve had at least one instance where you found yourself in a real rut, unable to perform at your usual level of professional excellence. That’s called a burnout. Actually, if you’re like a lot of people, you feel this way quite often because you’re never fully able to deal with it. Statistically speaking, “76% of employees experience burnout on the job at least sometimes, and 28% say they are burned out ‘very often’ or ‘always’ at work.” 

Statistically speaking, “76% of employees experience burnout on the job at least sometimes, and 28% say they are burned out ‘very often’ or ‘always’ at work.” 

A burnout doesn’t just come out of nowhere. It builds up over time and sort of snowballs into this huge problem that then seems impossible to deal with. If you’re lucky, you may be able to recognize the early signs of burnout and take preventative measures, such as taking some time off work. But usually, that’s an ideal, not a reality. Many people, because of their workplace structure, don’t feel comfortable asking for time off, because they feel guilty, or feel they’ll get grief from their boss, and for some they know it won’t be afforded to them. The truth is, time off in the face of a mental health crisis should not be viewed as a luxury, but as a necessity. 

The structure of society, and more specifically of the common workplace environment, is to blame for burnout being such a common phenomenon.

The structure of society, and more specifically of the common workplace environment, is to blame for burnout being such a common phenomenon. The systemic issues at play actually seem to make burnout inevitable. There is an inherent issue in the nation’s collective mentality, which translates to a misguided approach to office management. This in turn, of course, affects employees. The cycle feeds on itself because those employees are unable to deal with burnout when the issue is not internal, but rather embedded into the very fabric of society. This is why the collective (and more specifically, organization leaders) are responsible for addressing the problem, not the individual. 

The American mentality to ‘go, go, go’; to always be striving for the next best thing, rather than appreciating what one already has; this creates the mindset that drives people to crash and burn. When we are blindly chasing something, it is easy to forget to care for ourselves. We get caught up in the hustle, and our mental health pays the cost. And when our mental health pays, so too does every other aspect of our lives. That said, the real issue is not forgetting to care for ourselves, but rather not feeling like we are able to.  

With the stigma around mental health remaining an ongoing issue, though progress has been made, it’s no wonder people suffer quietly. Going through it alone means not having adequate help to confront the issue head on, to handle it before it gets out of hand. Without the proper support system, and comfort discussing mental health strain, people are bound to reach a point at which they must focus all efforts on healing themselves. This of course gets in the way of their ability to perform their duties, and therefore becomes a company issue. It’s for this reason that mental health care is not just a matter of personal concern, but company concern as well. While that can pose complexities as it is a delicate subject to discuss in the workplace, there are many ways an organization can prioritize the emotional wellbeing of their employees. Ultimately, it comes down to fostering a healthy workplace culture.   

There are several things leaders/organizations can do to help prevent burnout: 

> Consider (and reconsider) workloads. According to a recent HBR survey of 1500 people in 46 countries, 62% of respondents have struggled to manage their workloads. Not everything is urgent and not everything needs to be redone so that it is absolutely perfect.  

> Start meetings with check-ins and give space for the variety of emotions you may hear. In fact, in addition to acknowledging where people are, listen for trends and themes. If everyone is “stressed” or “exhausted” it may warrant an on-the-fly adjustment to your agenda. 85% of respondents in the same HBR study said that well-being has declined during the pandemic.  

> Integrate well-being into how you lead and offer robust workplace wellbeing resources at your organization. Encourage employees to use the services, and even better, role model by using them yourself.  

> Create space for dialogue as a manager/leader that is beyond just work tasks. The more you know about what is happening in your employees’ lives the more in tune you can be to make adjustments and be supportive.

Burnout has become such a common phenomenon that the WHO has classified it as an International Disease, described as a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” The scale of this issue is unbelievable, given the fact that it could be more easily avoided if organizations and people leaders were to simply make a few adjustments.  

Together we can make a difference, one organization at a time. What is your company doing to encourage a healthy workplace environment? Enough? 

Shaara Roman is founder and CEO of The Silverene Group, a culture consultancy that helps companies align their people programs with business goals.

The Silverene Group is proud to be a 100% minority, woman owned business.