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Burnout is connected to company cultures — here’s how to combat it

Employers are scrambling (stumbling? staggering? it’s bad) through the Great Resignation, desperate to educate themselves on burnout and set “preventative” measures to ensure their employees don’t get there. But the more resources they provide, the more stressed employees feel. In this article, we’ll go over what *actual* work-life balance looks like, why employees are burnt out in the first place, how to predict the earliest signs of burnout, and how you can help make real change in workplace culture.
Janjira Sun

Okay, from the top: What’s work-life balance, again?

We’re talking about the state where someone equally prioritizes demands from both their work life and their personal life. With remote work giving millions of us a four-foot commute, it’s become harder than ever to create any kind of balance. The line between work and personal life is blurry. Work is everywhere, on any device, anytime, anywhere — especially for people who work on a remote, global team.

It’s really not your fault: It’s the work environment that’s burning people out

Work-life balance sounds pretty great, but the reality for most of us is that it remains more of a goal than a reality. 66% of full-time employees based in the US feel that they don’t have a proper work-life balance. Give employers credit: Most are embracing the idea of remote work and investing more into mental health and wellness practices — but these surface-level practices don’t (and won’t ever) solve burnout. All over the world, we’re putting a bandaid on a permanent issue.

Those shiny company values are creating a toxic work environment

While US companies pour an estimated $225.8 billion each year to help treat mental health conditions — that money’s not fixing this thing. Millions of people are still burnt out.

Employers fail to recognize that workplace culture correlates directly with burnout, paying attention to “quick wins” (for the culture) rather than systemic fixes. Here are some common red flag culture points to keep in mind while you look for your next team ⤵️

  • “Must be able to work in a fast-paced environment”
  • Translation: You’ll end up working on a small team, wearing multiple hats, and will most likely get overworked
  • “If you’re a self starter…”
  • Translation: You’ll go in with the expectation of growth alongside a higher-up, but will get very little support and probably end up informally managing anyone who gets hired after you
  • “Must be flexible, go the extra mile”
  • Translation: Work overtime, outside of your work hours, without any actual overtime pay (who wants to get compensated for their work, anyway)

On first glance, all these points might sound fun, exciting, and most importantly, challenging! Why wouldn’t you want to go fast and do the best work of your life? In the wrong environment, though, it’s all just a little too much.

With these values set in stone within a company, people have no choice but to fit themselves within that company-imposed bubble. When in Rome, be a Roman, they say. Employees are working under immense amounts of stress, with sky-high expectations that they’ll work beyond their means to get the job done.

According to EHS Today, only 46% out of 53 million adults with mental illness in the US have accessed mental health services. Employers are constantly throwing all this money at burnt out employees, believing that health and wellness stipends are going to magically save the day. But all that does is shift blame away from the company and towards the employee. While you may be thinking that feeling the effects of burnout are your fault, we’re here to assure you: it’s not you, it’s them.

Toxic work environments aren’t inclusive

According to the McKinsey Institute, “…toxic workplace behavior was the biggest predictor of burnout symptoms and intent to leave.” So let’s cut through the jargon — toxic workplace behavior looks like:

Real facts about work culture to shift your perspective (all from McKinsey Institute)

  • Women are more likely than men to educate themselves to help support other women in the workplace
  • It’s harder for Black employees to organically advance within their role, thus having to work even harder than a non-PoC to get into higher positions within the corporal hierarchy
  • Burnout, mental health, and wellbeing is directly correlated with ones’ work environment and culture

Employees are expected to wear multiple hats and work extra hours to achieve the company’s goals, all while masked under the “if we win, you win” mentality. And while adaptability and resilience can help get you somewhere closer to work-life balance, it doesn’t compensate for the impact of a toxic workplace.

All this mess adds up to employers losing their best employees and missing the opportunity to address broader workplace toxicity. When we only reward the most resilient and adaptable employees, employers fail to acknowledge those who may be less confident, but are extremely competent.

How can employers prevent burnout and avoid creating a toxic work environment?

Remember that burnout looks different for everybody, and organizations should not only be working to prevent burnout, but also to take a closer look at why it’s happening in the first place. According to McKinsey’s survey, even if employers offer mental health and wellness packages, if they’re not directly addressing toxic work behavior, they’ll never “…meaningfully improve reported levels of burnout symptoms.”

The best way to prevent employee burnout is by simply offering a safe space to have a candid conversation about work. Here are five signs that you or members of your organization are burnt out, and how you can help ⤵️

Feeling exhausted, tired, or sleep deprived. Are you noticing that you or someone on your team is feeling more low-energy lately? Whether it’s personal or work-related, evaluate what’s on their plate, and see how you can help give them more time to rest and take breaks.

Increased mistakes. Mistakes happen (and should be embraced)! But if you notice that mistakes are happening more often than usual, take a break and reevaluate why they’re happening — with an eye toward support, not critique.

Disengagement. When there are so many things going on in both your work life and personal life, taking some space can feel like the best solution. If you notice your coworker avoiding hopping on new projects, participating less than normal in meetings, or losing enthusiasm within their work, this could be another sign that they’re burnt out.

Being sensitive to feedback. Feedback is always important when it comes to collaborating effectively, and everyone has different ways of how they’d like to receive it. If you notice that someone is receiving your feedback more harshly (if they’re being defensive, closed off, or frustrated), take a step back, give them some space, and revisit the conversation to ensure you’re giving them helpful feedback.

Decrease in productivity and quality of work. Recognize that everyone’s definition of productivity and quality of work is different. When an employee is burnt out, you may notice that they’re taking on lesser workloads, or taking longer to complete a project. Make sure to check in with them to ensure that they don’t have too many tasks or reprioritize their projects.

It’s not too late 🙏

Burnout happens for a lot of reasons, and there isn’t a singular solution that’ll magically solve it — but keep an eye out and you’ll start to pick up there are always on the signs hidden in plain sight. In order to create more sustainable work environments, everyone within an organization has to be held accountable, and that all starts with leadership.

Here are some ways you can help employees avoid burnout that’ll help set the foundation for healthier work culture. ⤵️

Check in often. With remote work, it’s easy to be engrossed in projects and work independently without communicating with anyone. However, social interactions are essential for our health — and no one does well without any socializing. Make sure to dedicate time for you and your employees to interact candidly with one another — this can be in the form of video games, water cooler discussions, or even quick daily check-ins about their workflow (nod to Murmur here).

Mandatory time off. Even though unlimited PTO is in vogue, some employees feel that they can’t take time off (because, naturally, the company will implode if they don’t finish up their project). In fact, over half of US employees don’t use all of their PTO. Mandatory vacation means more time for your organization to rest, spend time with their loved ones, and show up to work as the best version of themselves. 💗

Stay transparent and communicative. Employers tend to overlook what their employees have to say. Along with checking in, remember that you can learn from your team, too. Ensure that you’re giving everyone the mic to speak their minds — but don’t just listen. Go do something about it. We promise, people will notice. 💜

Wanna just make a f#@%ing decision? Don’t make it a meeting. Make it in Murmur.
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