How to beat burnout

Article in Harvard Business Review explores phenomenon of burnout.

How to beat burnout

Nearly a year since the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, businesses are noticing a second related pandemic: employee burnout. As workloads increase and alternative work arrangements and Zoom meetings become more commonplace, many employees are experiencing strains in their emotional and physical health. 

A recent article in the Harvard Business Review, by Jennifer Moss, co-founder and Board Member at Plasticity Labs, a workplace insights and consultancy firm, explores some of the causes of stress, and some of the ways that organizations can find workarounds to reduce stress. Moss stated that organizations that had encouraged the following qualities tended to reduce burnout among their workforce.

Feeling a sense of purpose: Recent studies have found that people who report having a strong sense of purpose did not experience burnout. While the studies may be more relevant for knowledge workers, rather than first responders or front-line workers, there is sufficient data to suggest that a workforce that understands why their work is important to society or the economy experience better job satisfaction. 

Having a manageable workload: Organizations can communicate about priorities and what tasks can be put on the back burner. In addition, as face-to-face meetings are replaced by Zoom calls or Skype meetings, organizations can address the problem of “meeting fatigue” with a few pointers: 

• Ask, is this meeting necessary?

• If yes, ask if the meeting must be a video call, does it need to be longer than 30 minutes, which attendees are absolutely necessary, and can cameras be switched off for a screen break?

• Start calls with a check-in: How is everyone doing? Does anyone need to leave this meeting early?

Often when people are suffering stress, they can isolate and cut themselves off from family and friends. As employees and managers, we can all reach out to those we have not heard from for some time. Training and Development has developed a Mental Health and Well-Being e-Learning page and JHAH has provided online resources through its Mental Health Toolkit and an interactive, first-of-its-kind course, available in Arabic and English on GLOW.
- JHAH’s COVID-19 Emotional Help Line offers emotional counseling and support.
- Call: (013) 870-1919
- This service is available Sunday to Thursday, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m.

Feeling that you can discuss your emotional health at work: Nearly half of respondents to recent surveys don’t believe they can discuss emotional well-being at work, and 65% of those people say they experience burnout “often.” The first step is to create a culture of emotional safety at work, avoiding angry responses if there are mistakes or missed deadlines. Instead, focus on constructive solutions for how to get a project back on track. Organizations can also offer employees access to emotional health support, including online resources, reduced or flexible hours, a peer-to-peer outreach program, and having managers check in with their direct reports in a crisis. Just asking “How are you doing?” or “How can I help?” can have a dramatic impact on employee emotional well-being.

Having an empathetic manager: Listening to direct reports and communicating empathically increases job satisfaction, reduces burnout, and is linked to enhanced well-being. Listening is key. Managers who give people a safe place to share and who demonstrate that they’ve heard by acting on the words of their employees will have developed a stronger sense of trust. The impact of this will be a healthier, more resilient workforce. 

Having a strong sense of connection to family and friends: Workplaces have long been a place to establish and build friendships. But as more companies have introduced a variety of work arrangements, and remote meeting technologies, some companies are learning how social connections are for emotional well-being. Some companies are now developing hybrid solutions that allow employees to connect and collaborate in person, as well as virtually, and letting people decide what work setup will allow them to thrive.

The key takeaway from Moss’s article is that businesses need to learn from the COVID-19 crisis to prepare for the next crisis. Businesses that were already addressing the problem of burnout clearly had a leg up in anticipating problems their employees might face in a lockdown. Now that all businesses have a year of experience behind them, it’s time to adapt and grow stronger from the experience. 

Qualities to reduce burnout:
• Feeling a sense of purpose
• Having a manageable workload
• Feeling that you can discuss your emotional health at work
• Having an empathetic manager
• Having a strong sense of connection to family and friends

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