Studies show upwards of 90% of job related burnout (JRB) is caused by toxic and dysfunctional work environments. Yet, so many times the efforts to reduced or eliminate burnout are directed toward the individual and their symptoms rather than the underlying causes, those being Work Overload, Lack of Control, Insufficient Reward, Breakdown of Community, Absence of Fairness and Conflicting Values.
Common individual strategies at reducing burnout have included stress reduction, yoga classes, work/life balance instruction, efficiency training, meditation and mindfulness. While these approaches are not without benefit, they are a lot like alcohol relief drinking — the effects are only temporary and new problems are often created in the process.
Whenever physicians or other professionals are subjected to individual approaches to JRB there is a subtle, if not overt, message that they are the cause of their symptoms. It is implied that they lack sufficient skill training to properly handle their stress, that if they only knew how to handle stress better they would naturally feel better.
Approaching JRB in this way alone doesn’t correct the underlying issues. It merely delays proper interventions which work, frustrates employees, causes resentment and wastes resources.
As I have pointed out in previous posts, stress and burnout are not the same. Stress rarely causes burnout but burnout can and does cause a great deal of stress. Eliminating burnout will eliminate the stress it causes and some other workplace stressors.
To eliminate both from the workplace you must treat both separately. The key to identifying, mitigating or eliminating burnout is to identify the underlying causes and attempt to reduce or eliminate them form the work environment.
Why? The truth is, sick work environments create sick and despondent professionals. This sickness can manifest itself in many undesirable ways.
Burned out professionals make more mistakes, generate more complaints from clients/customers/patients/fellow employees, are absent from work more often, cause high staff turnover and create inferior products or services. Sometimes burned out employees will act out with drugs, alcohol or even workplace violence.
Again, these are only manifestations of burnout, not the underlying causes. What can organizations do to effectively address JRB? Here are five steps to follow if burnout is suspected in the workplace.
- Survey your staff. The industry gold standard for generating reliable measures of JRB in the workplace is the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI). These can be purchased and administered online. This instrument is both sensitive and specific and can be compared to industry norms.
- Do a Workplace Survey. Also by Dr. Maslach and her associates, this instrument will identify the presence and measure the degree of the six major mismatches between the employee and the job which cause JRB. Identification of these mismatches is a necessary first step toward eliminating them.
- Become flexible. Eliminating the mismatches which cause JRB can be challenging but very rewarding for an organization. Becoming flexible enough to adapt to individual employees’ preferences and needs by creating flexible work schedules, offering comp time for volunteering, de-centralizing decision making, fostering individual initiative and creativity will produce a superior and engaged workforce, eliminating burnout in the process.
- Offer training. Offer a broad range of enrichment courses or training for new and different positions within an organization. This will engender trust, good will and loyalty which will add directly to the bottom line over time.
- Honor your company’s values, and those of your employees. If your company has stated values, make sure it is honoring them. Honor your employee’s values by not asking them to do something which violates the company’s values or their own personal values. Conflicting values is perhaps the most potent of the six mismatches which cause JRB.
- Reward great work, often. Make sure your employee’s are rewarded for great work. Insufficient reward and absence of fairness are two mismatches you want to strictly avoid or eliminate. These two together at a high perceived degree can cause people to jump ship in a quick hurry.
- Hire a consultant. If the task of mitigating or eliminating JRB seems too large or complicated, hire a consultant. Hiring knowledgeable expertise for this problem is not only cost effective, it is income generating. It isn’t just about eliminating the causes and negative effects of burnout in the workplace. It is also about creating and engaged workforce (the opposite of burnout). An engaged workforce will be absent from work less and on time more, produce better goods and services, turn over less and generate raving fans for your business rather than complaints.
If you feel your organization is suffering from the effects of JRB and you don’t know where to turn, give me a call and I will do my best to help. You can contact me by clicking the CONTACT button directly below.