Even before the pandemic, many of us were working while trying to manage substantial and chronic levels of stress. This regular baseline of daily stress can be tiring but, more importantly, can also causes harm to our psychological health, our work and home relationships, and general abilities at work. Worse still is the possibility of burnout, which has longer lasting repercussions and can be a major undertaking to reverse.
In a recently published piece for the Harvard Business Review, workplace expert Jennifer Moss writes about the research she’s uncovered while working on her next book, The Burnout Epidemic. She explains that burnout results rarely from a major increase in stress, but instead from the incremental increase over time that eventually overloads our mental capacity. Jennifer’s research has shown that this is a widespread issue and concern among businesses and employees, something that’s only become more heightened as a result of COVID-19 and the resulting health and safety restrictions that are now in place.
A brand-new survey of 3,900 employees and business leaders across 11 nations, led by The Workforce Institute at UKG (Ultimate Kronos Group) and Workplace Intelligence, discovered that burnout and fatigue are equally concerning for employees working remotely (43%) and those in a physical workplace (43%). Overall, three in five (59%) employees and business leaders say their organization has taken at least some measures to guard against burnout, though nearly a third (29%) of employees wish organizations would act with more empathy.
The key word here is empathy. In my communication with leaders, I encourage them to rethink the definition of empathetic leadership — particularly as it pertains to preventing burnout. We tend to connect empathy to the golden rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” But I don’t believe that goes far enough. If you authentically want to demonstrate empathy you have to “Do unto others as they would have done unto themselves.” That requires stepping outside of your own needs, assessing and removing bias and privilege, actively listening to your people, and then taking action.
Jennifer goes on in the piece to show examples of leaders in companies where the leaders are acting on this approach, combining evidence from data with “empathy first” strategies. This has come in the form of adjusted workloads, flexible hours, safe office initiatives, and a general priority on mental health of employees. Because of the range of solutions and proven strategies that she’s come across in her research, Jennifer closes the piece by arguing that her examples should be a good indicator that a “one-size-fits-all” mindset is not helpful in countering burnout over the long run.
Jennifer Moss is an award-winning journalist, author and international public speaker specializing in happiness and wellness at work. Her book, Unlocking Happiness at Work, received the distinguished UK Business Book of the Year Award. Moss works with a wide range of organizations on how to develop and measure their happiness strategies for improved performance. Her inspiring and evidence-based presentations help leaders and their teams find joy and grow to become more resilient and successful.