“Don’t Work Too Hard.
Try to Maintain Balance.
Don’t Make Work Your Whole Life”
  •                                                 – Bronnie Ware       

  • This past Saturday was a great day.  I woke up early, made some coffee, read the paper, made breakfast for my wife (before she left for work), re-read the paper, had another coffee, made a list of things to get done, and then delighted in crossing them off as they were completed.  I drove by my former office and saw two cars I recognized in the lot.  Later in the morning I called two other friends who were also burning the Saturday oil.  I remember those days; Saturday was the 6th day of the workweek.  You could dress a little more casual and perhaps come in an hour later.  It was a quiet time that let you accomplish a great deal of work.  The quiet is gone now.  Another friend told me that it doesn’t matter what day of the week, or what time it is, the text messages, email, and phone calls continue regardless. All things considered, is it any wonder that The World Health Organization (WHO) recently included  BURNOUT in it’s “International Classifications of Disease”

    This initial announcement caused a great deal of confusion to which WHO put out an urgent clarification stating, “Burn-out is included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon, not a medical condition… reasons for which people contact health services but that are not classed as illnesses or health conditions.”  In other words, “burnout” is often the result of components within the workplace, it is not, as many believe, something brought on one’s self.  That being said, the responsibility for managing it has shifted from the individual to the organization.  It’s now the responsibility of leadership to address workplace issues contributing to “burnout”.  Failing to do so could lead to someone using that word no one wants to hear; “Negligent”

    Jennifer Moss, is a workplace expert, international public speaker, and award-winning author of Unlocking Happiness at Work.  In a recent HBR post, Burnout is About Your Workplace, Not Your People, Moss grabs our attention quickly with an examination of the financial and emotional toll of “Burnout”.  According to research conducted by both Stanford University and the American Psychological Association, workplace stress has significant impact on health costs, engagement and even mortality:

    • Health care costs of nearly $190 billion; roughly 8% of national  healthcare outlays.

    • Workplace stress is estimated to cost the U.S. economy more than $500 billion dollars, and, each year, 550 million work days are lost due to stress on the job.

    • Passion-driven and caregiving roles such as doctors and nurses  are some of the most susceptible to burnout, and the consequences can mean life or death; suicide rates among caregivers are dramatically higher than that of the general public.

    • Nearly 120,000 deaths each year are associated with burnout.

    According to a Gallup survey, the top five reasons for Burnout are:

    1. Unfair treatment at work.

    2. Unmanageable workload.

    3. Lack of role clarity.

    4. Lack of communication and support from their manager.

    5. Unreasonable time pressure.

    According to the foremost expert on burnout, Christina Maslach, a social psychologist and professor emerita of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, we are attacking the problem from the wrong angle.  “Too often we are looking at the person suffering from burnout rather than the issues that can be averted…..we need to better understand what causes people to feel motivated in our organizations, and what causes them frustration.”  The key is discovering root causes. 

    We must first understand what motivates us versus basic needs that must be met in order to maintain job satisfaction (Also known as Herzberg’s Dual Factor – Motivation/Hygiene Theory).  Herzberg found that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are not on a continuum with one increasing as the other diminishes, but are instead independent of each other.  Satisfaction (Motivation) is gained through challenging work; recognition for one’s achievements; responsibility; the opportunity to do something meaningful; involvement in decision making; and a sense of importance to the organization.  Dissatisfaction (Hygiene) factors include salary; work conditions; company policy and administration; supervision; working relationships; status and security. Burnout happens when the hygiene factors in our day-to-day work lives are compromised, missing, or taken away.

    Secondly, we need to ask uncomfortable questions that can serve to identify root causes of burnout.  Ask yourself as a leader, what is making my staff so unhealthy?  Why does our work environment lack the conditions for them to flourish?  How can we make it safe for them to work here every day?   The answers will only be found by digging deep into the data and asking people what would make work better for them.  It will be through this process that we better understand what causes people to feel motivated in our organizations, and what causes them frustration.

    The choice to address the issue of burnout can be a collaborative effort.  It is preventable, however it requires good organizational hygiene, asking more timely and relevant questions, using the information gained from the process, and smarter budgeting to address micro-issues associated with our day-to-day work lives.  Likewise, ensure that wellness offerings are included as part of your organization’s well-being strategy.  Keep the yoga, the resilience training, and mindfulness classes — they are wonderful tools for optimizing mental health and managing stress.

    Do you remember the story of the canaries used into the early 20th century to monitor coal mines for carbon monoxide?  They entered the mines singing and chirping, but over time “hygiene” factors compromised their health, the singing ceased, and they either left or died.  Today we have instruments that monitor workplace environments for those silent invisible factors that compromise our physical health. However, it becomes the responsibility of the organizational leader to monitor the work environment and assure that it is not compromising employees’ mental health.