How Can Employers Evaluate and Reduce Burnout?

The Foundation recently hosted a webinar titled “Preventing Burnout in the New Future of Work” with workplace well-being expert Jennifer Moss, author of The Burnout Epidemic. Moss will be a keynote speaker at the 32nd Annual Art & Science of Health Promotion Conference, April 11-15, 2022. Conference chair Dr. Sara Johnson hosted the webinar conversation with Moss. Here are a few of the highlights from the enlightening and informative webinar.

What Exactly Is Burnout?

The term burnout has been part of the English language for centuries, but in recent years burnout cases have been on the rise. In the wake of the pandemic and the Great Resignation, burnout is a multidimensional issue and a growing epidemic.

In 2019 the World Health Organization (WHO) officially defined burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

This clarification from the WHO confirms that burnout isn’t necessarily an individual problem but an institutional problem. This definition gives researchers, experts and employers a concrete starting place to address the issue.

Burnout in Organizations

During the pandemic, Moss partnered with burnout experts and researchers Dr. Christina Maslach and Dr. Michael P. Leiter and organizational behavior expert Dr. David Whiteside. They developed a survey that gathered qualitative and quantitative data from 46 countries across the globe. They discovered that burnout is basically universal right now, with extreme reports of burnout and other mental health challenges in all 46 countries. Additionally, survey participants shared other personal challenges, many resulting from the pandemic.

Given the definition of burnout as an occupational syndrome and the reporting of cases on the rise, burnout is a “we” problem, not just an issue on the individual level. Organizations need to think of it as an institutional challenge and evaluate ways to prevent the six root causes of burnout:

1. Workload—Including overwork and assignment of unexpected tasks

2. Control—Perceived lack of control, poor leadership/management

3. Reward—Compensation structure, other benefits, recognition and positive feedback

4. Community—Supportive interactions, friendships with coworkers and colleagues

5. Fairness—Perceived lack of fairness, need for clear procedures, equal opportunities

6. Values—Possible values mismatch. Employees need to feel connected to their work, be a good fit in their position and be aligned with the company.

Organizations can work to prevent or lessen the causes of burnout by examining workplace culture, policies, compensation and more.

Communication is Key

Wellness and stress management practices for employees are important, but they can’t solve burnout completely. It is often helpful for organizations to implement systems of communication so that when employees feel symptoms of burnout and stress, they are comfortable expressing their concerns and needs, and they can then work to resolve the issue. Individual wellness tools can be effective in managing burnout and lead to healthier, happier and better performing team members.

Moss also discussed the importance of creating a culture of empathy and the important role it plays in community. She expressed the importance of curiosity and said that direct managers and leaders should be “professional eavesdroppers.” When team members share information about their lives, managers need to listen and ask questions if necessary. Having genuine interest in and curiosity about your employees and the challenges they face is how management can recognize, reward and compensate team members appropriately. By actively listening, organizations can create policies and programs that truly support employees’ needs.

Small Changes, Big Impact

Moss’s research and experience have generated many practical strategies for managers to help prevent or reduce burnout. Most of the tactics are small, relatively simple practices that supervisors can implement to increase gratitude, empathy, positivity and stronger working relationships. 

One strong example of a management practice shared in the webinar was to set a recurring reminder to express gratitude to each direct report. This can be done via email and should be a very specific recognition of a recent accomplishment or task well-done. 

Learn more about Jennifer Moss’s research, insights and practical suggestions for preventing burnout in the workplace this spring at the Art & Science of Health Promotion Conference, April 11-15, 2022. Moss and other experts in the fields of mental health and well-being, health analytics, resilience and more will speak at this conference that can be attended virtually or in person in San Diego.

Cara McMullin
Communications Specialist

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