Absence of Fairness and Burnout

An organization will burn out it's employees if the key elements of fairness are missing - trust, openness and respect.

An organization will burn out it’s employees if the key elements of fairness are missing – trust, openness and respect.

A few years ago, a pharmaceutical representative and friend told me they were fired after 27 years with their company, just before they were to retire. There were massive layoffs within her company as they attempted to cost-cut their way to a better bottom line. I can tell you firsthand 100% of those who remained with her company became cynical and burned out and did so almost overnight.

Over the years I have had many pharmaceutical representatives call on my office. There used to be many pharma reps touting twenty, twenty-five and thirty or more years with their company. All would tell me they would work happily for their company until the day they retired. Most, like me, had gray hair.

Sadly, as the healthcare environment and the pharma industry began to change, most of the older representatives were let go because of cost cutting measures, some just before retirement. This is the reason those who remained behind burned out so quickly. Who can blame them?

Today, most of the pharma representatives are in their twenties and they switch companies often. Few of the “gray hairs” remain. This kind of corporate purging was tremendously unfair. The result – rampant industry wide employer distrust. I hear it everyday.

Recently I began reviewing the 6 mismatches between the job and the individual which can lead to burnout and writing a post on each of them in a series. The fifth mismatch in this series, absence of fairness, is the subject of today’s post.

Most Americans carry with them a sense of fairness. We want to treat people fairly, we want to see others treated fairly and we want to be treated fairly. This is ingrained in most of us from an early age.

We feel uneasy, even distressed, when we see fairness being disregarded or violated. Nowhere is this more true and obvious than in the workplace.

In her book, The Truth About Burnout, Dr. Christina Maslach asserts that, “A workplace is perceived to be fair when three key elements are present: trust, openness, and respect.”

In her studies, she found all three of these elements to be essential in order to maintain a person’s engagement with work. In direct contrast, the absence of any of these three key elements will contribute directly to burnout.

You can know when physicians, other healthcare providers, pharmaceutical representatives or anyone else’s sense of fairness is being eroded when you begin to notice the following:

  • When an organization begins to take actions with little concern or input from employees.
  • When short-term financial performance is sought in lieu of building organizational community.
  • When management no longer takes staff member’s assessments of services and problems at face value.
  • When staff are viewed as being primarily concerned with protecting their job more than the welfare of patients or clients.
  • When open and honest communication is no longer a priority or even sought.
  • When management begins to value secrecy more than openness.
  • When management changes the parameters or modes of operation without any explanation.
  • When organizations restructure to cut costs and let go of their most experienced and productive employees while retaining the least experienced and productive workers because it saves money.
  • When organizations forgo raises and/or employee benefits with the excuse they can not be afforded yet increase the compensation or pay out large bonuses to those in management.

The uneven and unfair distribution of rewards is probably the single most important impediment to building a sense of community among employees. This will undermine and destroy the development of productive relationships with work and fellow coworkers.

You know, it just doesn’t have to be this way. Much can be done to instill in employees the sense of trust, openness and respect necessary to build community and avoid burnout.

Please, come back here for the next post in this series on the job-employee mismatches leading to burnout and what to do about them. In the meantime, do you have a sense of trust, openness and respect in your current work environment? Do you feel this is something that could be strengthened to the benefit of your organization and to you personally?

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