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8 March 2021
Employee Motivation

THE LOOMING CULTURE CRISIS & EMPLOYEE BURNOUT

Did you know that the World Health Organisation has recognised employee burnout as an occupational phenomenon, and classified it in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11)?

It’s not simply exhaustion. According to the WHO:

“Burnout is a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterised by three dimensions:

– feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion

– increased mental distance from one’s job, and feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job

– reduced professional efficacy

Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life”

I completely relate to the WHO’s definition above, choosing to leave my previous globe-trotting career due to complete burnout in my early 40’s.    I didn’t recognise (or probably chose to ignore or accept) that the physical health problems, mental stress, and eventual complete breakdown that I experienced, were due to the sheer exhaustion, ridiculous hours and hectic schedule I sustained over a 12 year period.

The latter half of that period I was regularly travelling inter-continentally, working away from home sometimes for 3 weeks at a time.  My husband was a naval officer at the time, also having to spend weeks or months at sea, so I would occasionally have to travel with my two pre-school children.  Organising temporary creches or nursery schools, whilst I worked onsite with whichever client I was consulting to at the time, added more stress to the work life, as well as the feelings of guilt for dragging my kids from pillar to post (although they’ve turned out great).

Looking back, it was complete madness.  I started suffering from numbness, pins and needles in my hands and feet, migraines and sickness on a regular basis, and a constant feeling of exhaustion hindering my efforts to try and maintain my career trajectory and still be a great mum and wife.  Even after extracting myself from that career, I suffered serious health issues for another decade.  Only now, 20 years later, do I feel that I’m back to full health and in a great place mentally – despite lockdown.

So I really do relate to why the WHO are now classifying burnout as a definable disease.  Burnout and disengagement are on the rise as employees continue to work under challenging circumstances. Staff are either in fear of their health on the front lines, or logging long hours at home, in isolation.  And as I can personally testify to, when employees are burnt out, time away isn’t the solution. 

 

Coming to a company culture near you – a crisis 

The predicted crisis is the erosion of company culture – and the subsequent undermining of business performance – that will occur if business leaders fail to assess the impact 2020, and its continuation into 2021, has had on their employees. 

I suspect many leaders are experiencing the effects of burnout in their workplaces right now. Many employees have returned to work after the holiday break with dread, as the underlying drivers of burnout – including unreasonable workload, unfair treatment, and frustration caused by lack of role clarity and manager support – aren’t remedied by time off. 

Business leaders are about to be hit, out of the blue, with employee issues they never saw coming.  The tragedy is that this will occur just as businesses are poised for recovery and need all hands on deck.  Worryingly, this burnout will quickly turn into total disengagement if not caught and remedied.

But there are actions leaders can take to identify whether their own cultures are imperilled, along with steps for insulating the organisation from damage by developing a strong core purpose

 

Why It’s Important for Leaders to Assess Teams Now – A Solution

The burnout phenomenon and its underlying drivers are just one reason why it’s important for you to regularly assess your teams and gain a clear understanding of where underlying problems may be bubbling under the surface.  

Some leaders are suggesting they prefer to wait “until things settle down” or “we’re all back in the office”.  However, as we hope to start putting the pandemic behind us, and focus on recovery, you will be even busier than ever, whilst the issues present within your organisation will have had months to fester and grow.  

Savvy leaders who want to stay a step ahead will want to nip problems in the bud before they disrupt their businesses. This is where running an Employee Engagement Benchmark Assessment provides a litmus test to highlight any issues, giving you potential to make changes before it’s too late. It’s truly a case of prevention is better than cure.

Alluxi are proud to partner with EngagementMultiplier™, a tried-and-tested online tool that provides the data and insights you need, acting as an early warning system, that enables you to see around corners and spot growing issues – before they become serious problems. 

 

Burnout & Employee Engagement – Contributing Factors

A leading researcher and expert on employee burnout, Christina Maslach noted in an article entitled Burnout is About Your Workplace, Not Your People

Categorizing burnout as a disease was an attempt by the WHO to provide

definitions for what is wrong with people, instead of what is wrong with companies.”

There is a clear correlation between burnout and employee engagement. Gallup identified the top five reasons employees burn out are:

  1. Unfair treatment at work
  2. Unmanageable workload
  3. Lack of role clarity
  4. Lack of communication and support from their manager
  5. Unreasonable time pressure

Fair treatment, role clarity, clear communications and support from ones manager are all drivers of employee engagement. However, when any of these are absent and are combined with an insurmountable workload and unreasonable expectations, it’s easy to see how a person would quickly become not just exhausted but disheartened.

Additionally, the rapid shift to working from home in response to the pandemic may be creating new issues for employees, as managers are still struggling with the adjustment to remote leadership, and exhibit new behaviours that were not previously observed.

Pitfalls remote leaders are falling into, that absolutely align with the burnout drivers listed above, include:

  • Becoming invisible to employees when we all are working remotely
  • Expecting employees to be “always-on” and immediately responsive to emails
  • Using technology to monitor employee activities
  • Over-reliance upon meetings, as a proxy for keeping tabs on productivity

The remedies for burnout take aim at these five contributing factors, and they start with the company’s leadership: revising policies will not resolve underlying drivers such as an absent leader, one who treats employees unfairly, or a poor communicator.

 

Disengagement 

Engaged employees bring their best selves to work, and are enthusiastic about and committed to their work and their employer. They relish playing an active role in the business and are willing to go the extra mile.

A disengaged employee is the polar opposite, and no longer cares about the work they do or the company they work for. At their worst, actively disengaged employees are miserable and spread dissent and unhappiness to others on the team.

Disengagement can be extraordinarily costly to a company, stemming from increased absenteeism and higher rates of leave, lower productivity and quality of work, and ultimately, a higher rate of employee turnover.

While burnout and disengagement are different things, they are often found together, and without a doubt, burnout can lead to disengagement, if an employee sees no forthcoming improvements to their situation.

 

Diagnosis

The most effective remedy is one that’s targeting the right issue. As they say, you don’t want to perform surgery with an axe.

The first task is taking a brave look within your organisation, and understanding how your people are doing. Are they exhausted, or do you have more serious, systemic problems that are leading to employee burnout, or worse, full disengagement?

These issues can be easily masked, and may not be evident at a glance. Depending upon the size of your organization, there are various steps you can take to better understand if exhaustion or employee burnout are impacting your team.

  • Talk to people, and not just your direct reports. Schedule skip-level meetings or small group discussions to hear directly from front line employees.
  • Check your HR records for unusual patterns, such as a higher than normal absences, or increases in employees on leave.
  • Survey your employees. Without a doubt, this is the quickest and most accurate way to get a read on where the organisation stands. A well-constructed survey that guarantees employees full anonymity will enable you to gather frank feedback and provide a source of truth about the health of your company culture.

 

Recovery

Recovery will start when you identify core issues and act upon the information and findings to begin resolution and improvement. The process can be aided significantly with healthy doses of transparency and clear communication, such as:

  • Share the findings with your team. In addition to building trust and credibility, being transparent in this way also creates shared context by defining the issues at hand, putting everyone on the same page. You may also find that sharing information in this way invites more feedback, motivating people to share more insights and feedback with leadership.
  • Communicate which issues you’ll be addressing first, along with any related plans and timelines. Be sure to communicate progress and outcomes along the way, to keep building credibility and make it clear to all that actions are being taken based upon employee feedback. The old adage of “Tell ‘em what you’re going to tell ‘em; tell ‘em; tell ‘em what ya told ‘em” holds here. Repetition will make the message stick.
  • Re-survey your team (or go back for another round of skip-level and round table meetings) to gauge the impact of your actions, and gather reaction and feedback on your efforts.

Your efforts to diagnose and resolve issues within your team can be aided by an employee engagement survey platform such as the one Alluxi offer to clients through our partnership with EngagementMultiplier.

 

“Belonging” – The top employee engagement trend for 2021 

It seems you can’t read an article about employee engagement without a reference to a sense of “belonging”, and for good reason. Defined as

“the feeling of security and support when there

is a sense of acceptance, inclusion, and identity

for a member of a certain group or place”

belonging is currently top of employees current needs for two key reasons

  • the impact that working from home has had on many individuals, inculcating feelings of isolation and loneliness.
  • the renewed focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and

The underlying drivers that create a sense of belonging are not new, and actually drive an employee’s overall engagement with your business. What IS new is the emphasis being placed this year on the sense of belonging, and how that impacts an employee’s overall experience.

Together, they create a sense of belonging, which is crucially important in organisations that have been stressed by furloughs, lay-offs, and remote working.  You can read more about this new trend in Sarah Skerick’s article “Top Employee Engagement Trend for 2021: Belonging

This is yet another instance where the Employee Engagement Benchmark Assessment can help your business. If you’ve not surveyed your team recently, this will help you understand at a glance what your employees value – and where the organisation is falling short.  This free survey, simple to set up, anonymous, and taking just 10 minutes to complete,  will show you where your company stands.  Get specific insights into unforeseen issues and prepare your teams for a strong recovery.

Your Next Steps to Greater Productivity in 2021

Looking ahead to 2021, Alluxi is here to offer you support through these times of change, bringing a scientific facts and figures approach to evolve your business and realise your goals. Alluxi provides an initial 60 minute Productivity to Profit Analysis to understand your unique business frustrations and uncover where your hidden potential lies, to boost productivity in your business. You’ll receive an e-scorecard to benchmark your business propensity for success and you’ll leave the call with clear guidance on how to address your key issues. 

The Alluxi 60 minute Breakthrough session, including the Alluxi Business Success Scorecard, will illuminate hidden opportunities to maximise your business potential. Book now for just £100 + VAT, by email linda@alluxi.co.uk or call 07717 221368