The American Psychological Association’s (APA) 2021 Work and Well-being Survey found that nearly 79% of employees had experienced work-related stress in the month before the survey. The impact of this on our workplaces cannot be understated as nearly 3 in 5 employees reported negative impacts of work-related stress, including lack of interest, motivation, or energy (26%) and lack of effort at work (19%). Many of us are still dealing with the lingering effects of the recent global pandemic, and the period of social, economic, and geopolitical unrest. As colleagues, mentors, leaders, and managers, it’s incredibly important to examine everything that we can do to stop the cycle of employee burnout in our places of work.
But before I discuss this topic any further, it’s important that I fully acknowledge that there are plenty of others far more qualified to discuss the complexities of this topic. We’re not experts on this topic, and we’d much rather be responsible for starting a conversation and awareness of this topic that managers can then continue with their teams and peers. I’d like to discuss what we can do as teammates, managers, and leaders to ensure that our people are supported as we confront these challenges head-on.
Later this month, we will be holding a live chat on June 2nd at 1:00 PM EST with Jeff Brainerd and Allison Regna from our engineering management team to talk about their experiences with promoting a culture of well-being and satisfaction within their teams. We welcome all of you to attend to continue this conversation about burnout, mental well-being, and work-life balance in a hybrid work environment.
The complexity of burnout in the workplace
Employee burnout can be a complicated topic to address for many reasons. In too many environments, conversations about one’s mental well-being have traditionally been regarded as taboo or too personal. Why? A few reasons come to mind, but I’ll only be scratching the surface on most of these:
Mental health needs vary drastically
The study by the APA demonstrates that burnout is on the rise in the United States, but there is no single solution to addressing the phenomenon. Because each person’s needs differ so drastically, a one size fits all approach will never work; we must tailor our support of our peers to each individual’s needs. It requires us as colleagues and managers to identify the signs of burnout and foster an environment that addresses the demands of the person’s role and needs. This type of tailored approach takes dedicated time, attentiveness, and a commitment from all team members; there is no shortcut to being a supportive teammate or manager. And it goes without saying that there’s no flip of the switch that makes this happen. We have to hire for these empathetic traits, lead by example, and reinforce the value of mental wellbeing in all that we do.
Companies build burnout into their cultures
Despite our emphasis on mental health and wellbeing in recent years, as a society, we are not nearly as accepting of people suffering from burnout as we should be. Many people still perpetuate a stigma surrounding this topic – often by our longstanding unhealthy work cultures and beliefs. You probably wouldn’t have to think too hard before you could name several companies that relish “the good ol’ days” when employees would regularly sleep at work, or times when the team was regularly expected to sacrifice their personal/social lives in order to achieve a certain business outcome. Maybe you’ve seen a workplace where it was expected that new hires would work nearly 24/7 until they “proved themselves.” In all of these cases, burnout is deeply embedded and expected behavior as a part of many work environments.
Giving Space and Respecting Privacy
Despite our best intentions to support our team members and employees, an individual’s health and well-being is ultimately a personal and private matter. And while we all hope to foster safe and accepting work environments, not all team members will feel comfortable discussing (or even recognizing) burnout amongst their teammates and managers. It’s very possible that you will work with a colleague who is going through burnout, and you’re completely unaware. Other times you might sense it without a specific discussion about it. Boundaries around this topic (and all personal matters) need to be respected at all times while simultaneously communicating our unwavering support when we sense that our team members need it.
What we can do to support our people
We can all take more time to become more educated on the topic of mental health and foster supportive team environments that are inclusive of all people. Leaders and managers can truly influence and empower team members to manage burnout through our words and actions.
Let’s stop positioning perks like free food in the office or after-work events as evidence of our “great cultures.” Instead, let’s reference our people’s feelings of welcomeness, acceptance, and safety when voicing their opinions, vulnerabilities, and comfort levels. Let’s foster an environment that truly supports the diversity of our team members. Let’s ensure that we’re empowering everyone on our team to manage their burnout. Let’s ensure that we’re listening, hearing, and acting on our team members’ needs when they are communicated. Let’s hire team members that won’t perpetuate the stigmas associated with mental health and well-being. And, of course, let’s make a commitment to becoming more informed and inclusive of the types of challenges our team members face every day.