Posted: 11 Mar. 2021 6 min. read

How bold will you be in battling burnout?

Important steps for managing burnout in the workplace

You and your people are tired. COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon, and remote schooling, social justice, political divide, economic uncertainty, isolation, social distancing, and the always on’ mentality of living in a digital world are weighing on people. People are tired, and burnout isn’t just an individual problem, it is an organizational one.

Overlooking employee burnout can have a disastrous impact on organizations. Burnout is recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as a diagnosable condition and can cause feelings of irritation, frustration, cynicism, and emptiness. These feelings drive absenteeism in the workplace as ~63% of employees are more likely to call in sick if they are feeling burnt out1. Further, unproductive time on the job or presenteeism issues may be an even bigger challenge. Studies show presenteeism costs organizations $1.5 trillion USD each year globally2. Additionally, employee burnout negatively impacts an organization’s culture, innovation, and growth capacity. Simply put, organizations cannot afford to ignore burnout.

Barriers to Managing Burnout in the Workplace

In a recent survey of over 125 CEOs developed by Fortune and Deloitte’s Chief Executive program, Employee well-being was identified as the top area where CEOs say their companies have struggled the most during the pandemic, with 90% taking action to support the mental health and employee well-being over the past 6 months3. Often organizations can be well-intentioned in looking to prevent employee burnout, but struggle to take the first step towards making a long-lasting impact. Common barriers to watch out for include:

1. Addressing the tip of the iceberg

Many organizations use engagement surveys to pulse employee well-being and burnout. The data provided can be helpful in identifying concerns or “symptoms”. However, they often lack the depth needed to identify the “root cause” of the issues. Organizations should supplement employee engagement data with network analysis regarding organizational friction, or the effort employees must expend to get their job done. In other words, how hard is it for an employee to navigate their role?

2. Assuming responsibility lies solely with direct managers

Direct managers are an integral part of embedding employee well-being into everyday operations. However, it cannot solely be the obligation of individual managers to implement employee well-being initiatives. To sustain impact, employee well-being needs to be delivered from the organization via an ecosystem of cultural, relational, operational, physical, and virtual measures (check out our Deloitte’s Human Capital 2021 Trends Report for details on all five environments). Organizations have a duty to analyze how individuals collaborate and modify the systems and networks to allow employees to do their job more seamlessly.

3. Believing Well-being is an “Either / Or” proposition

Many organizations agree that employee well-being is a fundamental component of their workforce experience. Yet, there can often be a feeling that prioritizing well-being means leaders must decide between well-being or other business imperatives. Now is the time to utilize your existing collaboration data, challenge ways of working, and proactively correct organizational systems that are dragging employees down

Steps to Move Beyond Burnout

In regards to managing burnout in the workplace, Deloitte’s Human Capital 2021 Trends Report identified the need to integrate employee well-being into the design of work at the individual, team, and organizational levels.

Depending on where your organization is along its well-being journey, this may seem like an overwhelming effort. However, there are key steps that you can take to move the needle to prioritize the employee needs and take meaningful action to foster positive well-being:

1. Cultural: Building well-being into social behaviors and track them

  • Model well-being behaviors: senior leaders must be role models, if leaders can’t make the time to function effectively, how can employees be expected to do so?
  • Track and measure variables that affect employee well-being using network analysis and organizational measures such as adaptable readiness and organizational friction.
  • Place well-being targets and KPIs into formal performance management processes, leadership evaluations, and rewards/recognition programs
  • Incentivize individuals to be proactive and vocal about well-being needs

2. Relational: Fostering well-being in relationships among colleagues

  • Utilize collaboration and network data to set up teams more effectively, ask for preferences and needs when forming teams
  • Establish norms for effective collaboration sessions (i.e., only making certain meetings video-focused, make some meetings walking meetings, sparing 10 minutes between meetings to start and end on time to allow for breaks, etc.)
  • Encourage frequent, proactive check-ins with colleagues on their well-being needs and leave time to foster meaningful connections that will enhance collaboration across their network

3.     Physical: Design physical work environments to facilitate well-being

  • Design work environments to support workers’ physical, mental, and emotional needs
  • Provide ‘playbooks’ with leading practices on how to setup remote/hybrid/in-person work environments (e.g., impact of sunlight/windows, uncluttered workspace, etc,)

Organizational burnout is here. Workers cannot sustain the pace of the last year, and it is these times of uncertainty that place stress on organizations to make bold moves overnight. Now is the time to utilize your existing collaboration data, challenge ways of working, and proactively correct organizations' systems that are dragging employees down.  How bold will you be in battling organizational burnout?

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Don Miller

Don Miller

Managing Director | Deloitte Consulting LLP

Don has more than 16 years of industry and consulting experience. In his current role, he serves as the US Analytics leader for Deloitte’s Human Capital Organization Transformation & Talent practice and also serves on Deloitte’s Global Organization Design and Decision Solutions Leadership team. Don is focused on helping clients improve performance by building operating models and organization structures to execute new capabilities through their people, aligning the capabilities, metrics, processes, and culture of a business to its structure, leadership, roles, and talent. Don also helps clients solve some of their top business challenges by creating tailored culture, leadership development, and employee engagement solutions to better execute organization transitions as well as mergers, acquisitions, and divestitures.