Feeling Burned Out? You’re Not Alone. What Can Your Employer Do to Help?: Pandemic Trends

Usually, I have either the words “eDiscovery” “Cybersecurity” or “Data Privacy” in the title of my post, but this issue extends far beyond the normal industries I write about.  You probably won’t be surprised to hear this, but employee burnout, which was already an issue before the pandemic, has become a huge issue since as this recent article in the Harvard Business Review discusses.

In the article Beyond Burned Out, written by Jennifer Moss (hat tip to Mike McBride’s blog for the coverage here), the author notes that “in 2020 burnout became rampant, seemingly overnight. Within weeks millions of people lost their jobs and faced financial and food insecurity. People working on the front lines worried for their physical safety, and those in health care put their lives at risk every day. A third of U.S. employees started ‘living at work’ — with the kitchen table as their new pseudo-office. Over the year acute stress would become chronic stress. And it shows few signs of abating.”

She also stated: “By April 2.6 billion people had gone into lockdown, and places of employment for 81% of the global workforce were fully or partially closed… This sudden shift did what little else had been able to accomplish before: expose how thinly stretched and worn down we all were — and had been for a while. And it also made our burnout much, much worse.”

One of the things I’ve observed and discussed with others is that when you work from home, the workday often may never seem to end.  You don’t have that mental break away from work that you get during the commute to and from work, you’re always receiving emails and your workstation is a matter of feet away from you at all times.  I’ve seen more articles and blog posts associated with the topic of burnout as well, and it seems to come up a lot more regularly in discussions I have with others.

Noting that when analyzing the real causes of burnout, “it becomes clear that almost everyone has been attacking the problem from the wrong angle. According to Christina Maslach of the University of California, Berkeley, Susan E. Jackson of Rutgers, and Michael Leiter of Deakin University, burnout has six main causes:

  1. Unsustainable workload
  2. Perceived lack of control
  3. Insufficient rewards for effort
  4. Lack of a supportive community
  5. Lack of fairness
  6. Mismatched values and skills”

These are all organizational issues, but we still prescribe self-care as the cure for burnout.  Noting that tools for improving well-being like yoga, wellness tech, meditation apps and subsidized gym memberships (who wants to go to a gym these days in the era of COVID-19?) won’t be effective in preventing burnout specifically.  “We desperately need upstream interventions, not downstream tactics.”  In other words, employers need to step up here to help address potential burnout of employees.

The author goes on to provide much more information about the current burnout situation including results from a survey of “more than 1,500 respondents in 46 countries, in various sectors, roles, and seniority levels, in the fall of 2020” and she also discusses some of the factors that have led to the current burnout crisis (many of which were in place before the pandemic).  She also identified some “easy things we can all do to combat burnout, most critically at the organizational level”, such as (with my comments added about some of them):

  • Feeling a sense of purpose: Not surprisingly, employees were much less likely to experience burnout if they had a strong sense of purpose in their work.
  • Having a manageable workload: Organizations should communicate more about priorities and about what can be put on the back burner until time permits.  When I worked with Rob Robinson years ago, he used a terrific phrase that I’ve never forgotten – “selective neglect”.  No matter how productive you are, you can’t do it all, so you pick the things that are most important and prioritize those.  When I worked for Brad Jenkins, he used to emphasize identifying the most important three things you wanted to accomplish each day and writing them down; for me, that was a great prioritization tool to ensure that I completed at least the top items on my list each day (which made me feel productive).
  • Feeling that you can discuss your mental health at work: Instead of getting angry when mistakes are made, working with the employee to determine how to get back on track and offering employees access to mental health support.
  • Having an empathetic manager: The author talks about (among other things) “actively listening to your people; and taking action”. Where I worked before, we conducted 30-minute one-on-one meetings with our direct reports and (at least) the first 15 minutes were devoted to anything that the direct report wanted to discuss.  As most of my direct reports were remote, I came to value those meetings as a way to understand how they were doing mentally and what challenges and frustrations they were experiencing.  Sometimes, I was simply a sounding board and they could vent to me; other times, there was a work issue that I could help address and we came up with a plan together to address it.  I’m a big proponent of regular meetings like this.
  • Having a strong sense of connection to family and friends: There have been several people in our industry who have helped bring people together during this pandemic through community events that are not necessarily work related.  One example: Mary Mack and Kaylee Walstad of EDRM started a weekly support call that has been a great way for several of us in the industry to stay in touch – we don’t discuss work; rather, we discuss how things are going in our lives.  I have gotten to know people in our industry at a level I would never normally get to know them.  It’s important to find an outlet like this where you can connect with others – it really does help improve your outlook (certainly has helped improve mine!).

The author goes into considerably more detail regarding the topic, so I encourage you to read her full article here.

So, what do you think?  Do you ever feel burned out at work?  If so, what do you do about it?  Please share any comments you might have or if you’d like to know more about a particular topic.

Disclaimer: The views represented herein are exclusively the views of the author, and do not necessarily represent the views held by my employer, my partners or my clients. eDiscovery Today is made available solely for educational purposes to provide general information about general eDiscovery principles and not to provide specific legal advice applicable to any particular circumstance. eDiscovery Today should not be used as a substitute for competent legal advice from a lawyer you have retained and who has agreed to represent you.

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