AWWA Articles

Career Zone -- Beware of the employee burnout epidemic

By Stuart Karasik

Career ZoneFrom enthusiastic, positive and energetic to disinterested and burned out – all within a couple of years. This troubling transition is part of a growing workplace issue: early employee burnout.

I recently witnessed this when I talked with a very bright and highly qualified colleague. When I’d last seen her two years ago, she had just completed her master’s degree in business administration and was excited about her new position with a major financial consulting firm.

Fast forward 24 months, and she is disengaged and disillusioned, worn out from endless e-mails, video conferences and texts.

She said her firm still provides a competitive salary, generous benefits and other perks. But she feels mentally and physically exhausted and, more importantly, disrespected by the 24-hour work environment that includes shorter deadlines, ever-changing technology and an increasing workload and responsibilities. She is ready, willing and able to jump ship.

Even more unfortunately, my colleague is not alone in her feelings. Business Insider, a financial and business news website, estimates that the global impact of early employee burnout is more than $300 billion annually.

This is due in part to rising levels of pressure and stress on all employees, no matter their job classifications. They are expected to respond immediately to phone messages, emails and texts, regardless of the time or day.

These pressures are leading to less civility in the workplace. According to research conducted by Christine Porath, associate professor of management at Georgetown University, employees are increasingly feeling disrespected by their peers and supervisors. Her two decades of research shows 98 percent of professionals say they have experienced uncivil behavior at work and 99 percent say they have seen it result in decreased productivity and personal difficulties.

These time and workload pressures can lead to feelings of disrespect and neglect, manifesting in poor attitudes and job performance that aren’t helped by treats in the breakroom, flexible schedules or after-hours socials.

How can you lead your workplace to guard against these challenges and maintain employees’ sense of value and positive morale? By creating and sustaining a culture of respect, boundaries and open communications. Here are some suggestions:

  • Listen. Encourage employees to express their concerns and take the time to use this three-step process to show you have heard and understand them.
    1) Repeat back the concern, saying “I think what you are saying is…”
    2) Paraphrase what you heard the employee say.
    3) Ask if what you said was correct. Then, take any necessary action.
     
  • Respect your colleagues’ time. Be on time for meetings, appointments, phone calls and remote activities. Meet your deadlines. Don’t expect co-workers and your staff to respond immediately, especially after work hours. Without constant pressure, they will be more willing to help in emergencies.
     
  • Set realistic work goals and break them up into smaller, attainable sub-goals that are more manageable. Track your progress and celebrate successes.

Employee burnout is not a new phenomenon. Fred Flintstone probably experienced it during his long career at Slate Rock and Gravel. But in today’s fast-paced and stressful world, each of us needs to take steps to recognize and minimize its negative impacts.

Stuart Karasik has spent most of his career in the human resources/personnel arena. He has a Ph.D. in education, a master’s in biology, and was previously the training program manager for the City of San Diego.

 


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