Workforce discussions can feel inherently adversarial. But if we limit ourselves to thinking of it as employees versus managers or employees versus employers, we may miss the biggest threat to us all. Those dinosaur-esque questions ignore the looming asteroid named “burnout.”

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The malignancy of burnout

Companies often add burnout to workplace safety, security, and viability checklists. It’s one of many metrics companies try to track and tackle without necessarily giving it a specific focus. Burnout can originate from excess work, poor life-work balance, attrition elsewhere on a team, or launching new products and services.

There’s a risk to your people and company when treating burnout like an afterthought or a symptom of something else. Instead, think of it as a disease on its own.

That’s how the World Health Organization approaches burnout, which it classified as an occupational “disease” back in 2019 — note that this is a workplace phenomenon and not a medical diagnosis or issue. Here it is more fully:

The impact of burnout is that it can make it harder for people in any position to do their work, let alone enjoy it. It’s a threat to helping your people have their most productive day and a threat to them wanting to come in each morning.

Notably, organizations like the WHO define it relative to management. Burnout becomes a risk when managers don’t address stressors or the employee experience needs to be improved. It’s when we, as managers, let that asteroid loom threateningly in the sky and choose not to do anything about it.

For 28% of employees, burnout is present ‘always’ or ‘very often’

According to a Gallup 2023 workforce report, 28% of employees worldwide say they “always” or “very often” feel burnt out at work. That’s markedly higher than the 24% that never or rarely feel that way.

It also leaves another 48% of employees in the middle, experiencing burnout at least some of the time at work.

That makes burnout a significant threat, especially with the report noting that burnt-out employees are more likely to put in only minimal effort and tend to be psychologically disconnected from their jobs. That generates more stress and greater isolation. A burnt-out team member increases the workload for others, expanding the risk of attrition.

Unfortunately, stress is also on the rise. Almost half of employees say they experience stress for “a lot of the day,” compared to 36% a decade ago and 38% just before the pandemic. Going back to the WHO definition, this compounding stress — when not managed properly — increases the likelihood of burnout and attrition.

Gallup’s survey compounds the workforce management concern, noting that 56% of actively disengaged employees feel “a lot” of this daily workplace stress.

Great workforce management improves employee experience 

What can managers do? Start by having one meaningful conversation with each person just once a week. Stand-ups are a great tool here.

The data to back this up comes from Gallup’s reporting, which finds 80% of employees who receive meaningful feedback weekly are fully engaged. This improvement is seen no matter where they work.

What can a meaningful conversation include:

  • Recognition of accomplishments and ongoing work
  • An offer to collaborate or brainstorm on a project
  • Sharing concrete support for roadblocks beyond just asking if someone needs help
  • Discussions on career growth or personal development
  • Making room for feedback or concerns
  • Tangible outcomes from past meetings

The great news is that managers only need to speak with employees for 15 to 30 minutes if these conversations happen frequently. No micromanagement required! You want this to be a conversation about their well-being, not about all of their projects. Track your own data to see the positive impact here.

The research says introducing these conversations helps prevent burnout and reduce current burnout feelings.

When done right, this connection with another person creates engagement and builds trust. It lowers stress and provides a valve to vent pressure. Some organizations report that it reduces turnover.

You cut the risk of burnout by being a partner instead of just a monitor. To bring all back to our dinosaur friends, you don’t have to have a solution for the asteroid right away. Instead, talk with your team about it and use discussions to create meaningful plans. Then take steps and follow up. Together, you create an asteroid-busting plan to save Earth, or at least their enjoyment of work.

Category: Workforce Management