Stop the Burn
CTDO Magazine

Stop the Burn

Burnout among you and your employees can take a toll on an entire organization.

The World Health Organization defines burnout as an "occupational phenomenon." Employees who experience emotional and physical exhaustion, a sense of powerlessness, and frustration may be well on their way to complete burnout.

In fact, the 2020 Global Culture Report from O.C. Tanner Institute, a firm specializing in employee recognition and workplace culture, found that 79 percent of employees are suffering from mild, moderate, or severe burnout. The report, a compilation of data from more than 20,000 employees and leaders in 15 countries, includes in-depth research on employee experience, leadership, and teams.

"Observant leaders recognize that the current workforce is shouldering unprecedented demands. Now, more than ever, employees are expected to do more with less. Burnout is a real and present threat," the report states.

Multiple studies show that, when left unaddressed, burnout will affect employees' productivity, performance, and overall attitude. It serves as a destructive force, resulting in high turnover.

Unfortunately, 95 percent of HR leaders reporting from the O.C. Tanner study admit burnout is hurting retention at their organizations, contributing to up to half of annual workforce turnover. That concurs with Gallup data, which reveals that employees experiencing burnout are 2.6 times more likely to leave their current employer. What's more, those suffering burnout can create a contentious work environment for those who stay on board.

Taken as a whole, these effects are costly for business. Burnout takes a major toll, diminishing productivity, while also increasing errors and absenteeism.

O.C. Tanner found that generally there is a 22 percent decrease in work output among companies where employees experience burnout. In other words, the result of burnout is a decrease in revenue. 

Identifying the signs of burnout as well as creating strategies to move your team from burnout to thriving can transform your team and work environment.  

What is burnout?

Burnout symptoms far exceed feelings of constant stress and exhaustion. While those are included, the real source of burnout is what lies beneath the physical response to your team's seemingly overwhelming workload.

The Mayo Clinic defines burnout as "a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity." The decreased accomplishment and diminished identity cause significant disengagement. Employees experiencing burnout will feel weak, helpless, and hopeless without any real solutions for their emotional turmoil.

Three dimensions of burnout

Most people do not find inner drive and passion from their income. In fact, it is quite the opposite.

Although making money is important, what supersedes that desire is a deep need for individuals to find meaning in what they do. An occupation that goes beyond a job and becomes a calling can keep an employee engaged, even if the workload is difficult and overwhelming.   

When your employees no longer find meaning in their work, they experience a lack of autonomy and lose their soul connection to what they do. Until that occurs, it puts them into one of the three dimensions of burnout.

Overextended. In this dimension, the employee is taking on a heavy workload. She feels exhausted and unable to catch up with her assigned tasks. And it is not just her work life that seems to overwhelm her. She is also neglecting herself outside of the workplace, which serves to create an even greater impact on her work.

Disengaged. This individual is able to handle his work, but he is cynical and detached. With his high cynicism, he doesn't see that he has the power to change, so he infects his circle of influence with negativity.

Ineffective. An ineffective team member may have a great deal of energy and care about her work but lack confidence and cannot find the deeper meaning in her job.

Under these three dimensions, your team members experience emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment. The presence of any of numerous other symptoms can enable you to assess where your team falls under these three dimensions.

Symptoms

Before you can provide strategies and resources for your employees to manage burnout, it is essential to identify burnout symptoms to determine the level of intervention needed.

According to Psychology Today, burnout symptoms include chronic fatigue, insomnia, forgetfulness and impaired concentration, increased illness, loss of appetite, anxiety, depression, anger, and cynicism.

Note: Before associating any of these symptoms with your employees, first do your own self-assessment. You must ask yourself if you are thriving or in the midst of burnout before you can find solutions for your staff.

Employees' behaviors may be a reflection of management's behaviors, even if they are not fully realized by those in management. Working without making time for self-reflection can allow burnout symptoms to sneak in without individuals recognizing them.

Of course, some of these symptoms may also reveal a medical condition or mental health issue that a medical professional may need to address. Seek a doctor or mental health provider rather than self-diagnosing, because the healthcare provider may be able to determine whether an underlying health condition is associated with your symptoms.

After eliminating any potential health conditions, you can now properly identify whether you are experiencing burnout. Once this is addressed within yourself, start providing tangible solutions for your employees who are becoming debilitated by burnout.

Burnout solutions for three dimensions

Here are potential solutions you can tailor for each of the three dimensions.

Overextended. Use these strategies to help employees stop overextending themselves.

  • Delegate: Teach employees the power of delegation. What are they working on that someone else with more time or a greater level of expertise could potentially handle? Delegating lower-level tasks can lighten their workload and help them focus on higher-priority tasks.
  • Prioritize: Successful delegation works in conjunction with prioritizing each day. Train your team to structure their days by categorizing tasks and setting deadlines. Doing so will increase productivity while simultaneously minimizing stress.
  • Practice healthy habits: This group tends to not only neglect themselves at work but also exhibit unhealthy habits in every area of their lives. Encouraging healthy habits such as proper sleep, exercise, mindfulness, breaks, and healthy eating options can provide the proper education for individuals to make the necessary changes. Employees taking care of their health is paramount to seeing changes in the workplace.
  • Celebrate wins: Drowning in work without taking a moment to see progress can be overwhelming. Ask your employees to make a list of the work they have accomplished. After collecting the data, have them focus on how effective they have been in their work so far. Celebrate those accomplishments and encourage them to make this practice a habit.

Disengaged. This group can be the most challenging to deal with because of their high level of cynicism. The main source of contention with this group is the story they are telling themselves about their current position.

Help these workers change their story. Their cynicism is closely associated with how they feel about themselves. If you can get them to change their story and embrace the integral role they play within the company, they will shift from being a liability to an asset.

Ask your employees:

  • How do you feel about the work you are doing?
  • What about the work is going well?
  • What could the organization do more of, better, or differently?
  • Under what circumstances would you be able to move forward, and how can I help?

Listen to their responses to understand what is truly going on and to find ways to support your employees so they can work their way toward stronger engagement. Answers to these questions will help you establish the groundwork for understanding the challenges, setting benchmarks and attainable goals to move forward, and building trust.

Ineffective. Help this group find meaning in their work. This strategy is powerful in resolving burnout, and you should implement as much of it as possible, because it is a driving force behind motivation and employee satisfaction.

When your employees feel they are making a difference in the world and contributing to the greater good through their work, they will have a deeper connection to their profession and the company.

  • Connect directly to end users. In some cases, employees play a micro role in a macro process. Because of that, they are rarely, if ever, able to see the end results of their hard work. Create opportunities for your team to see those outcomes.
  • Engage in a job-shaping exercise. This exercise prompts employees to redefine their job to incorporate their motives, strengths, and passions. It will encourage them to visualize their job, map its elements, and reorganize it to better suit them.
  • Map tasks and interactions. After refocusing on strengths, team members can reorganize their tasks to connect directly with what they truly enjoy and excel at. Also, they can map their interactions to include more mentoring opportunities or to build stronger relationships with co-workers and their community.
  • Look for ways to connect and have impact. When you challenge employees to shift their focus from within to their world around them, they will be able to find more opportunities to connect and make a greater impact on their work environment and within their community. You can also create those opportunities through office social events or community outreach events.
  • Create meaning in new ways. Challenge workers to get creative with finding new meaning in their job. Perhaps you could provide professional development opportunities that are centered around finding and creating meaning in the workplace. Give yourself that same challenge. Ask yourself what you can do for your team to create greater meaning.

Burnout can be a serious condition that not only affects your employees, but it can infiltrate the entire work environment. It can create long-term damages to the company's morale and culture.

The first step to stopping burnout is to start with yourself. Leading individuals requires complete honesty with yourself. Once you arrive at a state of thriving, determine what dimension your team falls under and begin implementing strategies to transform your team and elevate your company to higher dimensions.

Read more from CTDO magazine: Essential talent development content for C-suite leaders.

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About the Author

Greg Zlevor is the president and founder of Westwood International. He has more than 25 years of experience in executive leadership development and education and has served as a coach, consultant, and facilitator collaborating with Fortune 50 companies, governments, and emerging industry leaders all over the world on programs that have profoundly shifted the way they do business. He has worked globally across Europe, Asia, North America, South America, and Australia. For additional information regarding Greg Zlevor, contact jerry@speakerconsultantservices.com.

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