Do you know what burnout is? 

Burnout is a state of prolonged mental and physical exhaustion due to work-related stress. While it can start with an individual, burnout can spread through teams and have significant impacts on business productivity, culture and growth

In recent years, burnout has become a growing concern. In fact, in 2019, the World Health Organisation (WHO) added it to its list of occupational hazards. In the same year, Australia spent over $34 billion on burnout-related incidents. With the addition of a global pandemic, burnout is more prominent than ever and it’s something your culture can help avoid. 

However, first of all, do you know what burnout looks like? 

It may look like:

  • Mental, physical and emotional exhaustion,
  • Non-usual mood changes and purposeful isolation,
  • Increases in mistakes, forgetfulness, accidents and missing days,
  • Lower engagement levels,
  • More unfinished tasks or much slower productivity.

It’s important to reflect on your own behaviours as well as your co-workers or employees to check for burnout symptoms. It presents differently for everyone but in general, a negative shift or change to usual habits is a sign that something may be wrong. 

Burnout is not only detrimental to the personal health of your employees but it can have a ripple effect. Poor mental and physical health can affect productivity, motivation and relationships across a team or company. And unfortunately, burnout can be amplified by many small, sometimes insignificant things, which makes it all the more difficult to identify, avoid and solve.

Here are five examples of what might cause burnout and how to avoid them in the first place:

#1 Monotonous work

While some of us are drawn to repetition because of its ease and simplicity, repetition is mentally and physically draining. Doing the same thing everyday perpetuates exhaustion and leads to other work-related stresses. 

And while we understand that about 40% of our daily activities are performed each day in almost the same situations, it’s important to create some differentiation and novelty to keep you going. Our brains need stimulation and challenge to keep us happy and productive. 

How to avoid:

  1. Add something fresh into the mix every now and then. Investigate cross-position or department collaboration to expand your employees’ circles and duties. Group projects are a great way to slash through repetitive tasks while promoting mentoring and social interaction
  2. Use your current meetings to change this up. Purposefully use standups or retros  to figure out what excites your team l and work together to add that challenge or a creative outlet into work that is currently on the list of things to do. Creating a shared list of tasks can help with visibility of what is on the table and will allow people to show interest. Creative work doesn’t have to be extra work. 

#2 No employee recognition or feedback

In a workplace, validation and recognition is critical. Knowing you’re on the right track or that your company values your contribution inspires and motivates people to work harder and smarter. Without feedback or constructive conversations, employees flounder and think “what’s the point, no one cares”. This negative self-talk increases the likelihood of burnout. 

Think of feedback as a grade on a test. If you sit an exam and never get the result or never have a chat with your teacher, how are you going to improve? This uncertainty and the feeling of uselessness significantly contribute to a burnout spiral. 

How to avoid:

  1. Schedule regular formal and informal feedback sessions or check-ins that follow the 8 to 1 rule. This rule suggests eight pieces of positive feedback to one piece of constructive to reinforce and recognise good work before focusing on what may need to be worked on. 
  2. Look into a reward or new recognition system. Some companies have “employee of the month” or a free breakfast when they close a client. These systems should be personalised to your team, your values and consistent throughout the year. 

#3 Poor work-life balance

It’s okay if work follows you home every once in a while but consistently blurring the line between work and home time is one of the main causes of burnout. Creating space and time to switch off gives the brain a chance to relax, re-evaluate and get rejuvenated to tackle the next day. 

The demands of working from home meant nearly four in five Aussies suffered from burnout last year. Now more than ever, this balance is critical but it is also more difficult to achieve in such uncertain times. 

How to avoid:

  1. Whether it’s personally or company-set, create no-contact hours so you can actively switch off. The mentality of knowing nothing will demand your attention in that time will help to relax and create some separation between you and work.
  2. If you’re still WFH or mixing days, help your team create a designated WFH space so when they turn off the light, it’s like leaving the office and they can have some personal time.
  3. Lockdowns are never good for work-life balance and burnout. Try to check-in about time management and encourage rituals to ensure people have lunch breaks, start and finish times or social activities. But keep these practices regular and ensure they stick around even when life is more normal.

#4 Value mismatch

Burnout isn’t simply about being tired, it can also be caused by a state of unease or disjointedness. Mismatched goals and values between employees and a company can influence motivation and ambition.

If you highly value something that your boss doesn’t seem to care about, you’ll start questioning your role and productivity, which can have a widespread negative impact. And also vice-versa. If your employees don’t understand your vision or goal, it adds extra difficulties to management and growth. 

Values are intrinsic to culture and that usually starts with leaders and managers. 

How to avoid:

  1. Take an audit of what your values are, how you embody them and if your staff or prospective employees also align with them. It might take some team building to create an open forum to really dive into your company culture. Try and do this before any issues arise before value mismatch leads to burnout.
  2. Look into creating a culture “playbook”. This document will lay out your values and goals in a simple way and give you a guide to implementing these throughout your company. Never underestimate the power of how you listen to your employees. An objective culture consultant, like us at The Culture Equation, can create the space to unearth the biggest priorities for your business.

#5 Toxic managers, co-workers or atmosphere

On average, Australians spend upwards of 38 hours a week at work with their co-workers. Sometimes personalities, work styles, goals and lifestyles will create conflict. Tension or poor culture in an workplace is detrimental to productivity and wellbeing. 

It might be one person, a group or indeed the whole company could be struggling with its culture. This has the potential to cause burnout on a much larger scale.

How to avoid: 

  1. Create some open communication channels. The more you know and understand about the culture, the more likely you are to create meaningful changes to support your team. Team bonds, changes to your leadership styles or defining your goals might all need to be addressed. 
  2. Culture change consultants, like the team at The Culture Equation, can create bespoke programs that are designed to completely transform your business culture into your purpose, values and therefore the behaviours of your leaders and team. 

In truth, there are many things that can cause burnout and sometimes, we can’t avoid it completely. The main thing to take away from this is that open communication between teams and managers is critical to getting a head start. Don’t forget to continue with any strategies you come up with and keep talking to your team. 

And don’t be afraid to ask for help. We’ve all suffered from burnout at one point or another.

Who Is The Culture Equation?

We are a boutique management consulting company that supports fast-growing organisations to develop high performing cultures. Through our programs of work, we take our clients on a journey that drives culture change and expands their people potential.

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