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Tackling Burnout: Part 2 - Four Initiatives Organizations Can Take to Reduce and Prevent Burnout.

Updated: Dec 12, 2023

Courtesy of the Seattle Times

In Part 1 of our discussion on employee burnout, we delved into this modern epidemic's profound impact on individuals and organizations. We explored its definition, the significant role of leadership in exacerbating or alleviating it, and the substantial costs it incurs. But recognizing the problem is only the first step. In Part 3 we explore five managerial best practices to help reduce and prevent burnout.


First, let's discuss Part 2, as we shift our focus to practical, actionable solutions at the organizational level. It's time to move beyond merely identifying burnout to implementing strategies that systematically reduce and prevent it. In this part, we will uncover how organizations can transform their approach, creating environments that mitigate burnout and foster a culture of sustainable productivity and well-being.


Burnout is increasingly recognized as a systemic organizational issue rather than primarily an individual challenge. While individual wellness programs, like yoga classes and meditation, are beneficial, they are insufficient to address the complexities of employee burnout. As the burnout rate has continued to rise, there's a growing understanding that employers need to adopt a broader, more systematic approach.


Four Organizational Initiatives

This shift from individual-focused solutions to systemic organizational changes involves reevaluating and reshaping workplace culture, policies, and leadership styles to combat and prevent burnout effectively. This perspective views high burnout rates as a critical indicator that the organization needs significant change to sustain productivity, reduce employee burnout, and lower turnover rates.


Creating a Values-Based Culture

Creating a values-based culture is a pivotal strategy for systematically reducing employee burnout. This approach starts by aligning the company's Mission (the reason for its existence), Vision (its future direction), Quality Standards (performance benchmarks), Shared Values (the attributes that describe the company), and Knowledge and Traditions (how business is conducted).


When an organization consciously defines these cultural elements, it lays the foundation for an environment where employees feel a sense of purpose, alignment, and engagement. A values-based culture provides clarity and direction, helping employees understand their roles in the broader mission and vision of the company. This clarity reduces stress and increases job satisfaction, as employees feel their work is meaningful and contributes to a greater goal.


Integrating a values-based culture is crucial in reducing employee burnout, as demonstrated by a story from one of my clients, a Vice President of a division. This client's organization had values like "Do the right thing," "Respect our differences," and "Contribute to our communities." However, they faced challenges with employee perceptions of managers not acting according to these values, specifically in employee reviews.


Some staff felt promotions were based on favoritism rather than merit. Upon investigation, the VP discovered a director engaging in such favoritism and promptly dismissed them.

This story exemplifies how a values-based culture functions. It's not about instant feedback or perfect adherence. Instead, culture acts as guardrails on a winding road, offering protection and guidance. It doesn't prevent all problems but helps identify and correct them when they arise. In this case, the client's actions in response to favoritism demonstrated that their values-based culture influenced the organization back on track.


However, in the absence of a deliberately defined culture, positive or negative norms naturally arise, shaping the de facto culture. These emergent norms can sometimes foster environments conducive to stress and burnout, especially if they prioritize overwork or fail to recognize employee well-being. For instance, a culture that inadvertently glorifies long hours and constant availability can lead to chronic stress and disengagement.


By intentionally creating a values-based culture, organizations can instill a sense of community and shared purpose. When employees resonate with the organization's values and see them reflected in everyday practices, they are more likely to feel valued and understood. This alignment enhances employee well-being and contributes to sustained productivity and organizational success. Therefore, deliberately shaping a values-based culture is more than a symbolic gesture; it is a strategic move toward building a resilient, engaged workforce less susceptible to burnout's detrimental effects.



Implementing Sustainable Productivity Policies

Implementing sustainable productivity practices is vital in combating employee burnout. This approach requires balancing workloads and providing resources to manage tasks effectively, thus alleviating stress and enhancing job satisfaction. A culture that values employees' time and contributions is essential, particularly in remote work settings. Clear work and personal time boundaries, focusing on results over hours, promote a healthier work-life balance.


Effective management is key, with training to recognize burnout signs, provide feedback, and support teams. Emphasizing the importance of a sustainable productivity model, organizations must move from a hyper-focus on efficiency to a model inspired by the manufacturing industry's shift from 'just-in-time' inventory to sustainable supply chains. Addressing potential skepticism, it's argued that with high burnout and turnover rates, organizations can't afford to ignore employee well-being. The real competitive advantage lies in adopting a sustainable model, balancing efficiency with long-term employee health and satisfaction.


Additionally, organizations utilizing remote or hybrid work structures must establish clear guidelines around employees' personal time. Explicitly stating when employees are expected to be available and unavailable helps maintain this balance, ensuring that remote work doesn't encroach on personal time and contribute to burnout. This expectation of clarity is critical to sustainable productivity in modern work environments.



Measuring Burnout Continuously

The adage, “You get what you measure,” is valid for revenues, customer satisfaction, and employee satisfaction.  The continuous measurement of burnout is crucial for organizations to proactively identify and address employee stress and exhaustion. This ongoing assessment is vital as it enables timely interventions and helps maintain a healthy workforce.


Organizations should focus on the three primary symptoms to effectively measure burnout: emotional exhaustion, depersonalization, and reduced personal accomplishment. Tools like the Maslach Burnout Inventory (MBI) are instrumental. By regularly conducting surveys and analyzing the data to spot trends, organizations can develop targeted strategies to address burnout.


This approach not only aids in creating a supportive work environment but enhances overall productivity and employee well-being. Implementing these measures requires a commitment to regular monitoring and a willingness to adapt strategies based on the findings.



Investing in Managerial and Individual Training

Developing core skills like adaptability, resilience, emotional intelligence, and conflict resolution in employees is pivotal in reducing and preventing burnout. These skills equip employees with the tools to navigate the complexities and pressures of the modern workplace, which are often the root causes of burnout.


First, as noted psychologist Dr. Deborah Gilboa, M.D. emphasized, adaptability and resilience are essential 21st-century skills crucial for effectively handling workplace changes and setbacks. These attributes enable employees to adapt to new situations and recover quickly from stressors, preventing the accumulation of stress and exhaustion that often leads to burnout. Resilient and adaptable employees are more likely to view workplace challenges, especially in rapidly changing environments and amid unexpected difficulties, as opportunities for growth rather than insurmountable obstacles. This perspective is vital for maintaining their engagement and motivation, making resilience and adaptability more critical than ever in the modern workplace.


In January 2024, Gordon Creek Consulting will introduce a new training offering, "Thriving through Change," building upon the Insights Color model to better navigate workplace changes. This program is a critical addition, especially in an era where change is a constant in the professional landscape.


The "Thriving through Change" program, complementing the Insights Discovery Color Training, aims to enhance these skills. Insights Discovery employs a four-color model (Fiery Red, Sunshine Yellow, Earth Green, and Cool Blue) to help individuals understand their unique styles and strengths. This training fosters self-awareness and appreciation of diversity in work styles, enhancing team dynamics and communication.


Second, Employees with high emotional intelligence can better understand and manage their stressors and are more empathetic toward their colleagues. Emotional intelligence encompasses the emotional skills of self-awareness, empathy, and the ability to manage emotions. This leads to a more supportive work environment where employees feel understood and valued, reducing the likelihood of burnout. Moreover, emotionally intelligent employees are better equipped to communicate their needs and boundaries, preventing the overextension that often results in burnout.


Later in 2024, Gordon Creek will also offer Emotional Intelligence training, another vital component in the training curriculum for organizations fighting employee burnout. Our training will focus on improving empathy, self-awareness, and interpersonal skills, which are critical for navigating workplace changes and maintaining solid relationships.


Finally, Conflict resolution skills are essential in maintaining a harmonious workplace and managing disagreements constructively, particularly during times of change when tensions and misunderstandings can escalate. The ability to resolve conflicts constructively is crucial in any work setting, as it not only prevents the negative emotions and stress that can lead to burnout but also fosters a more positive work atmosphere. This enhancement in job satisfaction and well-being is vital, as misunderstandings and conflicts are inevitable. These skills are critical for a healthy workplace dynamic, a topic explored further in an upcoming blog on Conflict in the Workplace.



The Role of Leadership in Preventing Burnout:

In the role of preventing employee burnout, leadership is pivotal. Leaders must recognize burnout signs and foster a supportive environment prioritizing mental health and work-life balance. Training leaders in the same resilience, adaptability, and emotional intelligence skills as employees is essential.


Additionally, facilitation skills are essential for leaders to build team bonds and manage conflicts effectively. Gordon Creek's facilitation offerings enhance team dynamics, decision-making, and communication. Activities like team building, problem-solving workshops, and experiential learning methodologies (role-playing, simulations, outdoor activities) are utilized to develop these skills. This comprehensive approach ensures leaders are equipped to support their teams, create a positive work atmosphere, and reduce burnout risks.


Leadership training and support in these areas are crucial. Investing in these initiatives signifies a commitment to a healthy, productive workplace, emphasizing the significant role of leaders and managers in sustaining employee well-being and organizational success.


For more detailed information on Gordon Creek's facilitation offerings, please visit their website: Gordon Creek Facilitation Offerings and Facilitation Page.


In part 3 of this series we will dig deeper into seven managerial best practices leaders can use to reduce and prevent burnout.



In conclusion, organizations must embrace a comprehensive approach to reduce and prevent employee burnout. This includes shifting from individual-focused wellness initiatives to systemic organizational changes, building a values-based culture, implementing sustainable productivity policies, continuously measuring burnout, and investing in individual and managerial training. The critical role of leadership in these efforts cannot be overstated; leaders must be equipped with the necessary skills and resources to support their teams effectively. Organizations can create healthier, more productive work environments by adopting these strategies. Organizations must start implementing these strategies to tackle the challenge of burnout effectively.


Stay tuned for part 3 of this series, where we will dig deeper into seven managerial best practices leaders can use to reduce and prevent burnout.

 

Gordon Creek Consulting offers expertise and guidance for organizations looking to build a sustainable work culture. Contact Gordon Creek today to discuss how we can assist you in creating a healthier, more resilient workplace.

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