People and their behaviours are what deliver results to your organization. Not systems, not processes, not applications.
Last week I was invited to a Zoom meeting organized by the Global Head of HR of a billion-dollar turnover company to speak about a wellbeing proposal for two top executives on the verge of burnout. At the end of the conversation, the HR leader closed with the following phrase: ”We think the program has a lot of potential, but the individual sessions you propose will have to take place on weekends…there will be no time during the working week…”
The expectation of some employers to deal with burnout “in the weekends” or in a seminar or two on best practices is unfortunately not uncommon. The COVID-19 pandemic has illustrated the importance of mental and physical wellbeing, but the pressure of dealing with the financial and operational impact of COVID-19 has brought a renewed call to push harder, not less.
The problem is that an already emotionally and mentally exhausted workforce will not increase productivity or performance, on the contrary. Burnt-out leaders have adverse effects on innovation, employee engagement, productivity, profitability, business resilience, and talent retention.
So where to start?
First, how Seriously Burnt-Out are we?
Catalyst found in a global survey in 2021 that 92% of workers say they are experiencing burnout from stress related to their workplace, their Covid-19 work experiences, and/or their personal lives. For example, the percentage of Spanish employees who claim to live immersed in an “always on” culture in their work amounts to 74% (‘360º Wellbeing Survey 2020’). The effect of the COVID-19 pandemic on Spain’s doctors has been alarming, with the percentage of physicians suffering from burnout doubling to 60% from 30% pre-pandemic (Galatea Foundation, gathered answers from more than 4,500 doctors in 2020). The percentage of people who have experienced or felt on the verge of burnout in Europe, varies between 45-66%, with Spain ranking at an average of 51% (https://www.statista.com/statistics/1249649/experiences-of-burnout-in-europe/)
Burnout and Age Groups
In general, self-reported well-being increases substantially from around the age of 55, and continues to increase as we get older, says Arthur Stone, a well-known American clinical psychologist from the University of Southern California. However, a publication in Occupational Medicine Magazine in 2018 (link to Research conducted by A Marchand, M-E Blanc, and N Beauregard from the University of Montreal Public Health Research Institute) revealed a huge impact of gender on associations between age and burnout. Women's susceptibility to burnout increased sharply from the age of 55. The researchers explain that later in their lives, women are more likely than men to become caregivers to an elderly parent or relative. These statistics can obviously vary by country.
The pandemic has increased the levels of burn-out across all age groups (https://www.indeed.com/lead/preventing-employee-burnout-report). Baby Boomers (born between 1946-1964) show a 7% increase in burnout from pre-pandemic levels (24%) to today (31%). And at 54%, more than half of Gen-Xers (born between 1965-1980) is currently burned out - a 14% jump from the 40% who felt this way in 2022.
The Cost of Burnout for Organisations and the Healthcare System
The costs associated with not addressing employees’ mental and physical health issues cumulate to a material impact of hundreds of billions of dollars - from lower motivation and work productivity, to increased sick days and higher turnover. The costs for individuals who need to regain their health and wellbeing and need to deal with financial and family strain are equally high. According to various reports, companies are facing an employee burnout crisis which is currently costing companies and the European healthcare system €100+ billion per year.
Human Resource isn't a thing we do; it's the thing that runs our business.
What Influences Burnout?
Burnout is as much about the workplace as it is about the individual. High job demands, low control, and effort-reward imbalance are important risk factors. Being wired for predictability as humans, the uncertainty during the pandemic, and the potential consequences for the future together with the “breakdown” of community – the inability to physically spend time with the people we care about – have made us especially susceptible to burnout in these times. When we look for solutions, we have to remember that an excessive workload is only one factor - although generally, the main factor.
What can Companies do?
As we said previously, burnout is everybody´s problem; the company culture, individual factors, and leadership practices all play a role in building healthy organisations.
HR professionals, look after yourself. You have been at the centre of leading their organisation’s response to COVID- 19 and will now be bearing the weight of responsibility for people’s wellbeing during a climate of recession and high unemployment.
Involve your people in developing a health and wellbeing programme. Does your organisation have a wellbeing champions group, made up of volunteers with the enthusiasm to help drive forward the agenda?
Build a strategic approach to ensure health and wellbeing priorities are integrated across the business. This will help to avoid the pitfall of having a menu of activities that aren’t aligned.
Identify the main risks to people’s health in your organisation so that your support and interventions are based on real employee need. Around 96 percent of companies globally provided additional mental-health resources to employees, which is excellent, but only one in six employees reported feeling supported.
Show serious and visible commitment from the senior team. Walk the talk.
Educate people on what causes burnout and create workplace policies that enhance health and wellbeing.
A seminar delivered by qualified professionals would be a great start and would raise awareness, but if your company is serious about their employees’ welfare – then it has to be an ongoing process.
The Aon Global Wellbeing Report 2021, “Global Wellbeing Survey” (https://www.aon.com/global-wellbeing-survey.aspx), shows that only around 55% of companies in Spain have a well-being programme in place. The survey indicated that one of the main barriers to not investing in employee welfare is that companies do not know how to include it in their strategy (48%). If you are one of these companies, enlist an external company to support you with setting up a 'Wellbeing Charter' or 'Code of Practice' that is aligned with your corporate strategy.
Research has shown that employees who feel cared for and valued perform better. Employee well-being is predicted to have the greatest impact on the workplace of the future (74%), followed by the ability for employees to work remotely (71%), and employee mental health, stress, and burnout (70%). http://metlife.com/ebts2021
Now is the time to invest in your people. Everybody wins.
When people are financially invested, they want a return. When people are emotionally invested, they want to contribute.
Jacqueline Van Paassen & Iain Bainbridge