Burnout is an official diagnosis. What can employers do?
Work got your employees down? According to the World Health Organization, employee burnout is an official medical condition — one, experts say, employers have a responsibility to prevent.
The WHO defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Symptoms of burnout include mental exhaustion, entertaining negative or cynical feelings about your job and reduced productivity. Employers have reason to be concerned: Burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day, and over twice as likely to be looking for alternative employment, according to a study by management consulting firm Gallup.
“That’s why it’s so important for employers to not only proactively create an environment that can prevent burnout, but also actively monitor for signs of burnout and act quickly before it becomes irreversible,” says Dr. Sherry Benton, a Florida-based psychologist and founder and CSO of Therapy Assistance Online.
Contrary to popular belief, burnout isn’t necessarily the result of being overworked, Benton says. Employees who don’t feel fulfilled, or have a sense of purpose, through their work are more likely to feel drained at the office. Though employers may be tempted to reduce a burned-out employee’s responsibilities — thinking it’ll alleviate stress — Benton says that’s only a temporary fix. Employers who are serious about curbing burnout need to develop a wellness strategy that focuses on mental health, she says.
“The best long-term fix is to provide as much support and reinforcement as possible and help your employees find their purpose so they feel energized from work, rather than drained,” Benton says. “Employers should consider implementing supplemental resources into their wellness plans that focus on mental health.”
LinkedIn, for example, takes a two-pronged approach to safeguard against burnout within its workforce, integrating engagement monitoring software and wellness programs into the company culture.
Last year, the social platform for professionals acquired workplace management platform Glint, which uses employee surveys to measure engagement levels. Jim Barnett, founder of Glint and vice president of product at LinkedIn, says the feedback employers get from platforms like his can be instrumental in building a positive work environment by addressing issues as they arise.
“Our mission is to create a happier work environment for companies and their workforce,” Barnett says. “The components of being happier at work revolve around mental health and creating a safe place for people to be themselves.”
Based on his experiences developing Glint, Barnett says employees are more likely to be engaged when managers actively ask for their input on projects and policies.
“Collaboration makes people feel like their opinion counts,” Barnett says. “This is especially important with people who are dealing with mental health issues. People suffering from anxiety may not speak up and worry their opinion doesn’t count.”
One of LinkedIn’s newest employee programs aims to build mental resilience. Scott Shute, head of mindfulness and compassion at LinkedIn, developed a wellness initiative based on meditation principles. He’s also devising an internal study that examines what it means to be a compassionate individual in hopes of discovering the best practices for creating a harmonious work environment.
“It’s a two-pronged approach; I build my self-healing or awareness with mindfulness, and take it into the workplace with compassion,” Shute says.
Since last fall, Shute’s program has hosted two 30-day meditation challenges, and keynote speakers specializing in wellness — called wisdom sessions. As part of the regular workday, Shute hosts 10 minute meditation classes; he hopes to make them a regular activity at all of LinkedIn’s global campuses.
“I encourage [employees] to use meditation as part of their overall self-care and well-being,” Shute says. “It helps keep mental clarity and manage stress through self-healing.”
While the compassion component is still in the planning stages, Shute is optimistic the study’s results will help foster a healthy, resilient workforce.
“When people start thinking about others instead of themselves, they feel better about themselves and are less susceptible to stress,” Shute says. “I want to codify what compassion is so we can direct it into creating a mission driven place to work.”