The World Health Organization officially recognized “burnout” as a chronic medical condition, defining “QD85” as follows:
Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions: 1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; 2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and 3) reduced professional efficacy. Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.
This is the first time burnout has been classified as a medical condition by any official health body.
Work-related stress has been an issue increasingly discussed in the past few years. Making sure your people are not excessively stressed is crucially important. Low levels of stress are a core element of high-functioning teams. Who works effectively when they’re exhausted and on edge?
Groupon actually commissioned a study on work stress a few years ago, with some notable results:
Trello blogged about work burnout in 2017, and one comment, while a bit snarky, hits home on a major issue:
The problem is that our economy and its rewards are dependent on the maximization of labor efforts. With employees taking sabbaticals and getting paid maternity leave and mental health days and not answering Friday 8 PM emails Mr. CEO is not going to see the kinds of returns that will make the board award him a bonus juicy enough to bail and take a trip around the world. In a word “burnout” is just the normal effect of capitalist production on knowledge workers.
“Capitalist production on knowledge workers” is certainly one issue here, as is a general overachiever/perfectionist attitude around work; personal accomplishment is important to all of us. So, what can organizations do to make sure their people aren’t experiencing mental fatigue, emotional exhaustion, and suffering from burnout syndrome?
Here are five ways to overcome and prevent work burnout (and risk of burnout) that you can start implementing immediately:
The suggestions shared above are just a few of the ways you and your team can take action and prevent burnout at work in the short-term. They’re ideas you can start doing today or which you can at least have rough plans in place in a week’s time. However, preventing burnout and the effects of burnout aren’t concerns that require addressing only once. It can easily surface again in the future if the right plans and practices aren’t established.
We’ve previously mentioned the idea of edge, home, and groove in a post on operational cadence, but to recap:
If you look at technology companies and other progressive industries, you’ll often see a strong “home,” and by definition, they work on complex problems that promote the “edge.” But they often lack a true “groove,” in part because they’re fearful of throwing too many processes at something. This fear is validated: a fast-moving young tech company suddenly creates a boatload of processes, and it feels like a slippery slope from there to hierarchy and bureaucracy, right? Because “groove” can be associated with “processes,” this is the one element of the three above that is often missing, especially in early-stage companies.
You need processes (or call them “mechanisms” like Hulu’s Jason Kilar does). Processes allow you to scale — that’s the common argument for them — but they also help organize and contextualize competing priorities. Competing priorities can often lead to burnout (think of being told in the morning that 12 things are urgent). When you reduce competing priorities down to 2-3 things that truly matter, you reduce burnout and mental exhaustion.
We call this operational cadence because when you see companies do it right, it’s akin to watching an amazing drummer. There is a beat that underscores everything being done.
People are aligned. They know what to expect. They know what’s coming down the pike. They understand the broader strategy. They can determine what’s important without a middle manager telling them 15 different things are crucial.
An operational cadence reduces work-related stress and contributes to the prevention of the symptoms of burnout, and it’s not hard to accomplish. It comes from a mix of:
Burnout is a growing problem of modern business. But preventing burnout isn’t as difficult as brain surgery, nor is it that expensive to implement. It’s much more about recognizing the signs of burnout, establishing rhythms and priorities around work and the way it gets done, and also respecting that your team and co-workers have lives and interests outside of the work being completed.Start building a check-in cadence and improve resiliency