We tend to conceive of burnout as an individual problem that can be solved by “learning to say no.” More yoga, better breathing methods, resilience training, and so on. However, data suggests that adopting personal, band-aid solutions to an epic and fast-expanding workplace phenomenon may be damaging, rather than helping, the battle.
With the World Health Organization (WHO) now officially recognizing “burnout,” the burden of controlling it has shifted away from the individual and toward the organization. Leaders, take note: it is now your responsibility to develop a burnout strategy.
The term “burnout” first appeared in the 1970s, and the medical profession has debated how to describe it for the past 50 years. As the discussion becomes more heated, the most recent WHO pronouncement may have created more confusion than clarity. Burnout was added to the World Health Organization’s International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) in May, and the public quickly concluded that it was now a medical disease.
Despite the fact that the WHO is now working on guidelines to assist organizations with prevention initiatives, most people still have no idea what to do about burnout. The issue is less about employer liability and more about the impact on employee well-being and the large accompanying expenditures because it was deliberately not classed as a medical condition.
When Stanford researchers investigated how workplace stress influences health costs and mortality in the United States (pdf), they discovered that it results in approximately $190 billion in spending—roughly 8% of national healthcare expenditures—and nearly 120,000 deaths each year.
According to a recent WHO study, 615 million people worldwide suffer from depression and anxiety, which costs the global workforce an estimated $1 trillion in lost productivity each year. Doctors and nurses, for example, are among the most vulnerable to burnout, and the consequences can be fatal; suicide rates among caregivers are 40% higher than the general population—40% higher for males and 130% higher for females.
Clearly, this is a serious issue. And tackling it can feel like a monumental undertaking for leaders, perhaps because the concept appears too unclear or overpowering. How can we expect our managers to prevent burnout when specialists are still struggling to define it?
Motivators are not the same as hygiene factors. Working for work that is demanding; appreciation for one’s accomplishments; responsibility; the opportunity to do something significant; engagement in decision making; and a sense of importance to the business are all motivators. Salary; working conditions; business policy and administration; supervision; working relationships; status and security, on the other hand, are examples of hygiene elements.
Employees frequently fail to detect when an organization has outstanding hygiene, yet poor hygiene can be a huge distraction. The latter can be as simple as having coffee in the break room one day and then not having any coffee the following. People sense it. Burnout occurs when these expected components of our daily work lives are missing or removed.
Organizations have an opportunity to correct this type of problem right now. Burnout is avoidable. It necessitates strong organizational hygiene, better data, more timely and relevant questions, smarter (more micro) budgeting, and ensuring that wellness offerings are part of your overall well-being plan.
Maintain the yoga, resilience training, and mindfulness sessions—these are all excellent strategies for improving mental health and managing stress. However, when it comes to employee burnout, realize that it is your fault, not theirs.