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Don't Let Anyone Tell You Your Burnout Is Your Fault

In "Burnout Is About Your Workplace, Not Your People," Jennifer Moss writes about something she knows well: the importance of attending to the well-being of individuals in the workplace.

[C]ompanies without systems to support the well-being of their employees have higher turnover, lower productivity, and higher healthcare costs, according to the American Psychological Association (APA). In high-pressure firms, healthcare costs are 50% greater than at other organizations. Workplace stress is estimated to cost the U.S. economy more than $500 billion dollars, and, each year, 550 million work days are lost due to stress on the job.

What's the Origin of the Problem?

Burnout is categorized as a disease by the World Health Organization, meaning that it is located in the individual. Moss quotes burnout expert Christina Maslach (UCBerkeley) saying burnout being categorized as a disease is "an attempt by the WHO to provide definitions for what is wrong with people, instead of what is wrong with companies."

This echoes Purser's argument that mindfulness tells individuals that they are responsible for their own happiness and that paying attention is what's going to get them there (I disagree with his characterization).

The Importance of Leadership and Culture

When a CEO comes to me asking for help with operations, I inevitably end up speaking with their team to find out what's really going on, as often the CEO doesn't understand the nuts and bolts of the operations because they aren't doing them every day. What frequently is revealed is a series of systems, protocols and workflows that do indeed need some tweaking, but more telling to me are details like: what is the employee turnover for these positions, and why?

Not Every Operations Problem is an Operations Problem

Frequently what look like operations problems are really problems of continuity, team cohesiveness, and leadership. If the leader doesn't inspire their team to be curious, resourceful, and motivated to excel by modeling that behavior, then the team is left asking themselves why they should work hard (if they aren't already intrinsically motivated to do so regardless of where they work). This is why it's crucial for leaders to walk around and check-in on people to see how they can be of service and keep current with work conversations. A leader who is isolated physically, and otherwise not connected, can't see for themselves how people are getting along and doesn't seem approachable. Not to mention they don't have the opportunity to casually share their thinking.

And a leader who refuses to hire remote workers or allow people to work from home when they need to because the leader doesn't trust them to actually work, well, that says it all. There is no trust. (Plus it has the added bonus of telling you that the leader isn't aware of the research. Run--don't walk away.)

Furthermore, if job descriptions, communication and values aren't clear, instability ensues and turnover results. For those not in a position to leave but without an intention to stay, "burnout" rears its head, and not necessarily because the person is overworked. More frequently, because they are under-cared-for. Such places are often referred to as "toxic."

For companies that don't have their pick of the best-of-the-best job candidates, culture and leadership are paramount. If you're not offering the prestige of a brand or location, or the desirable perks-du-jour, you need to at least offer an inspiring, respectful, supportive environment where employees feel safe and enjoy their work and work relationships.


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