21 Mar Burnout is Contagious, So How Do We Stop the Spread?
It’s no secret that Americans have been quitting their jobs at a record-breaking rate in recent months, and much of this increased pace of resignations is due to millions of people feeling burnt out. Pre-pandemic burnout was gauged to be affecting about 43% of the U.S. workforce. Many reports show that number has since climbed to almost 80%.
While deep seated issues in the American way of work are no doubt the root cause of this widespread burnout, the global pandemic sort of kicked us while we were down. For some, the ‘new norm’ brought on by Covid meant a much needed respite, but for many it meant the opposite. Work from home protocols caused 45% of people to take on more hours than before, finding it hard to set healthy boundaries for a work-life balance. People felt expected to be ‘on’ 24/7, and so they were.
Productivity during this time saw a big boost, but what remained unseen was the impact this overwork load was having on America’s mental health. (Piled on top of the ‘world is falling apart’ mentality that came with the pandemic.) Productivity may have had its moment, but the means of attaining it were unsustainable. Naturally, things began to crash and burn. Fast forward to April 2021, the onset of The Great Resignation. People started quitting left and right, many of whom did not immediately seek another job. This phenomenon spread like wildfire, and still continues today.
When someone burns out, there’s always a risk of contagion. Most often, burnout spreads to that person’s closest colleague(s) – emotionally and practically speaking. Co-workers who spend the most time together, whether that be due to a friendship they have or a work-related necessity, are most likely to impact each other’s mental state. But when an entire nation has been on the brink of burnout for almost a decade, it’s no surprise that workers are falling like dominoes.
So how can one prevent the spread? Unfortunately, masks and hand washing won’t do the trick!
Understanding what caused the burnout can help prevent similar cases.
Understanding what caused the burnout can help prevent similar cases. Since we’ve all had a lot more stress and anxiety these last few years, it’s important to get to know your team members individually so that you can have a better sense of their personal situations. You’ll be more likely to know if their burnout is due to personal matters that have added an extra layer of stress. You’ll be more likely to know if their burnout is due to personal matters that have that have added an extra layer of stress. If that’s the case, then the situation is more likely to be contained. However, if they attribute the main cause to feeling overworked in their job, then there’s a good chance other employees feel the same way. While this is not always the case one way or the other, it’s generally a good rule of thumb.
When one employee burns out, it’s important to check in with the rest of the team.
When one employee burns out, it’s important to check in with the rest of the team. Burnout is an epidemic too, and it’s important to keep track of systemic issues as well. Catching it early can make all the difference. Once an employee has hit a wall, it’s going to be a lot harder for them to bounce back than if measures were taken to stop the burnout in its tracks. Check in with each member one by one or host team dialogue sessions to get a better picture of what’s going on.
If someone shows signs of being rundown, offer solutions to get them back on track.
If someone shows signs of being rundown, offer solutions to get them back on track. Things that might help include paid vacation, more sick days, an intro to therapy (especially as a paid benefit), increased flexibility in work schedule, a lightened load, or simply asking them what they need in terms of support. Really, it’s a good idea to offer these things before there’s ever any signs of impending burnout.
When faced with burnout, adaptive leadership can help guide the way.
When faced with burnout, adaptive leadership can help guide the way. Relying on protocols and SOPs to cure a problem that was likely caused by exactly that is just counterintuitive. While programs like generous vacation and access to mental health help, they are more of a Band-Aid solution to burnout. Instead, leaders have an opportunity to think collaboratively, creatively, and systemically about why their workforce culture results in people experiencing burnout. Unlimited vacation is fantastic – but if you can’t actually take it, are made to feel guilty for using it, or are expected to check in while on vacation, it’s pretty worthless. Getting a handle on the sources and causes of stress and figuring out the deep changes needed are what’s needed to restore balance.
Sadly, burnout is an epidemic in the American workplace.
Sadly, burnout is an epidemic in the American workplace. Over the past decade, the pressure has been mounting and toxic workplace culture has been brought to light. We’ve finally encountered the straw that broke the camel’s back. While the Great Resignation may seem like a bad thing, it might be just the wakeup call we needed. Troves of Americans ditching their jobs despite the risk of financial insecurity has definitely set off the alarms.
Panic has set in as leaders across the nation are desperately trying to figure out how to keep employees onboard during the crisis, and how to fill new vacancies during such a competitive time. If you want to know how to both attract and retain talent now, you can learn more in our recent blog, Winning the War for Talent Amid the Great Resignation.
At the end of the day, reactionary measures will always have a limit to their effectiveness.
At the end of the day, reactionary measures will always have a limit to their effectiveness. The true solution is to address the root cause of burnout, which is toxic culture. Now might be the perfect time to examine and assess your workplace culture. Doing so can end up being a full time job, so it’s usually a good idea to bring in the experts. At The Silverene Group, we’re passionate about helping businesses optimize organizational performance. We’d love to chat – schedule your complimentary consultation below.
Shaara Roman is founder and CEO of The Silverene Group, a culture consultancy that helps companies align their people programs with business goals.