The Solution to Burnout
Yu Tse Heng is a doctoral candidate in management at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business and Kira Schabram is an assistant professor of organizational behavior at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. In a recent Harvard business review article, they discuss their latest research in regard to employee burnout. They explain that burnout is an organizational problem, not an individual one. However, studies show that external efforts to help someone recover from burnout often fail. This doesn’t mean that employers should stop trying to assist their employees who are experiencing burnout, but instead, it means that it is time to discover a new solution.
Heng and Schabram cite their research, that was recently published in The Academy of Management Journal, when they state that the best person to help a burnt-out employee recover is themself.
The tricky part is that there is no straightforward method for recovering from burnout. Everyone experiences burnout at different times and for different reasons, which means every recovery process will be completely unique.
How can employers help? The answer is to teach and empower employees to not only identify when they are burnt-out, but also discover where their burnout is coming from and develop strategies to help pull themselves out.
Empowering Employees to Help Themselves Recover
- Encourage employees to use their vacation time and to take mental health days:
Common causes of burnout can include staying in one routine too long or feeling a lack of social connection. While work happy hours, potlucks or team building events can be a great solution for both of these causes, for already burnt-out employees the extra pressure to attend these gatherings could have adverse effects. Instead, a more effective approach in these cases is for managers to give employees the space to pursue their own restorative opportunities. Whether that is them taking a mental health day to decompress, taking some vacation time to reaffirm their own social networks, or something completely unique to their recovery process.
- Provide compassion meditation training:
Heng and Schabram‘s research found that those who were already suffering from burnout had a harder time engaging in acts of self or other care, but that those who were able to muster the energy to practice compassion showed significant reductions in burnout. This suggests that compassion is like a muscle: it can be exhausted, but it can also be trained. Additional research shows that compassion meditation training can rewire neural systems in the brain and help cultivate compassion. Offering on-demand webinars about compassion mediation, sending handouts explaining the practice and its benefits, as well as leading by example and practicing compassion mediation yourself can foster this practice within your organization. The key is to recognize that anyone can learn to be more kind to themselves and to others, and that those small, compassionate acts (alongside other mental health practices) can help you begin to break free of burnout.
- Make sure that wellness is being integrated into every aspect of your employee development plans and goals:
Take a moment to evaluate your employee development plans and goals. Are your efforts holistic? Do they include the growth of capabilities to decrease stress and burnout? According to Thrive Global, having development goals for employees that include cultivating the underlying behaviors and mindsets needed to be aware of their mental state and energy is essential to solving the burnout crisis. Incorporating wellness into your development goals and plans enables employees to navigate to positive and productive states, which includes learned capabilities such as resiliency, being authentic, building awareness, and creating positive and productive response systems to challenging or stressful moments. Incorporating this type of growth into employee’s plans can help them create space for it and use it when they need it.