Is Your Workplace Culture Creating Burnout? Five Questions to Ask

Much has been said about how employees can manage their own feelings of burnout. But organizations also have a part to play in mitigating burnout, and they can address it in a number of ways. These questions can help narrow down how.

We’re 22 months into a pandemic that has triggered a different condition—burnout. By its nature, burnout doesn’t usually disappear without concerted action. But that action doesn’t have to be limited to individuals. Organizations can create a culture that nurtures well-being, not burnout, ultimately leading to less turnover and more energized employees.

It’s helpful to start with a workplace that values and cultivates mental health. But mental health and burnout aren’t quite the same, even if they’re closely related, so it’s worth addressing the connection between burnout and workplace culture directly. Some may frame burnout as an employee issue that requires individuals to be treated, but others argue that the condition is a result of company decisions.

“Categorizing burnout as a disease was an attempt by the WHO [World Health Organization] to provide definitions for what is wrong with people, instead of what is wrong with companies,” said Christina Maslach, a social psychologist and burnout expert, in an interview with Harvard Business Review. “Then, it becomes that person’s problem, not the responsibility of the organization that employs them.”

Ask yourself these five questions to help identify whether your workplace culture is contributing to burnout.

1. Do We Offer Enough Flexibility?

Burnout is characterized by feelings of cynicism and hopelessness about one’s job, which might originate from a lack of autonomy. Employees who feel they have no ability to control where, when, and how they work may experience chronic stress on the job.

“A mentally healthy workplace is also about adapting the way individuals, teams, and organizations work and think about work,” states a report from Mind Share Partners about mental health at work. Solutions could include offering flextime, expanding your organization’s PTO program, and letting employees establish remote work boundaries for better work-life balance.

2. Where Do My Employees Want to Work?

Flexibility around where employees can work is also key. Most professionals want to work remotely for the immediate future, at least partially. But an Arizent study reports that just one third of employers envision a hybrid work environment for their organization. The study also notes that employers don’t plan to offer stipends or financial incentives to create at-home workspaces.

Going back to the office full time and completely taking work-from-home options away from employees—at a time when concerns about COVID-19 remain—may result in feeling a loss of autonomy, which could lead to chronic stress.

3. Do We Trust Our Remote Employees Enough?

Transitioning to a hybrid workplace means you’ll have two distinct groups among your workforce—those who work remotely, and those who work in the office. This could mean that treating all employees fairly might not come as naturally as it once did.

For example, with remote employees out of sight, leadership’s natural response might be to micromanage that group to make sure they’re not slacking off at home. Doing so could sap the life out of your remote team, leaving them stressed, frustrated, and lacking any motivation. Managers should instead trust that remote employees are doing their jobs, and judge their performance on results, not process. You can also consider providing managers with leadership training courses that focus specifically on managing a remote team.

4. Do Our Benefits Match Current Worker Needs?

During the pandemic, organizations have expanded benefits around healthcare plans, retirement, and telemedicine to help employees adjust to new living conditions and work environments. Consider making these changes permanent as employees continue to adjust to a changing workplace.

“If employers want to ensure a successful future for their organization, they must help employees ensure their own future through mental health benefits, an open dialogue around work and home challenges, and an acknowledgment that employees are in need of more help and assistance,” the Avizent report states.

Additionally, parents have been hit hard by the pandemic, so give your employees benefits such as childcare support, paid parental leave, and ample PTO where possible.

5. Are Our Employees Taking On Too Much?

One of the biggest causes of burnout is an unmanageable workload. With many organizations downsizing during the pandemic, it’s possible that your employees just have too much on their plates right now. Pay close attention to each person’s hours and responsibilities to make sure they aren’t overwhelmed; project management systems can help you here.

This is the second in a three-part series on burnout today. You can read part 1, about the difference between burnout, mental health conditions, and bad days here; and check out part 3, about how a sense of purpose can help combat burnout.

(Tongman501236/iStock/Getty Images Plus)

Michael Hickey

By Michael Hickey

Michael Hickey is a contributor to Associations Now. MORE

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