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The 6 Causes of Burnout at Work:

Jennifer Moss

Jennifer Moss, author of the new book The Burnout Epidemic: The Rise of Chronic Stress and How We Can Fix It, argues that employers need to stop blaming employees for not being resilient enough and, instead, change the policies and workplaces cultures that breed burnout in the first place. 

The post pandemic world is a totally new landscape. People are feeling emotionally exhausted, detached from their work and colleagues, and less productive and efficacious. This makes them more likely to suffer health consequences, need sick days, and quit their jobs.

“Burnout is about your organization, not your people,” she writes. “Yoga, vacation time, wellness tech, and meditation apps can help people feel optimized, healthier. But when it comes to preventing burnout, suggesting that these tools are the cure is dangerous.”

The 6 Causes:

  1. Workload. Overwork is a main cause of burnout. Yet telling people to “just say no” to working more is bound to backfire, says Moss. People recognize that working less is interpreted as not showing initiative or not stepping up and it may be punished, formally or informally. Instead, employers need to help identify low-priority goals for their employees (so people don’t push themselves too hard to meet goals that aren’t urgent), match people’s strengths to their job duties, provide more support when needs change suddenly, and have open and safe lines of communication, where feedback is encouraged and people can admit to mistakes. She also suggests things like implementing a four-day workweek, encouraging frequent walking breaks, and eliminating “work lunches” to help lessen workloads.
  1. Perceived lack of control. Studies show that autonomy at work is important for well-being, and being micromanaged is particularly de-motivating to employees. It’s important to help employees feel a sense of autonomy by backing off and acting more as a coach.
  1. Lack of reward or recognition. Paying someone what they are worth is an important way to reward them for their work. But so is communicating to people that their efforts matter. Gratitude from top leadership and peer-to-peer gratitude—and not just for meeting work goals, but for showing empathy and care for colleagues, too.
  1. Poor relationships. Having a sense of belonging is necessary for mental health and well-being. This is true at work as much as it is in life. When people feel part of a community, they are more likely to thrive. Employers pay attention to social needs and give people spaces where they can connect with colleagues around non-work-related topics.
  1. Lack of fairness. Unfair treatment includes “bias, favoritism, mistreatment by a coworker or supervisor, and unfair compensation and/or corporate policies.” When people are being treated unjustly, they are likely to burn out and need more sick time. Organizations need to have complaint mechanisms in place, respond to every grievance, and act promptly to resolve issues. Otherwise, resentment is bound to fester and grow. Additionally, unfair treatment due to racial or gender bias must be rooted out, as discrimination boosts the chance of burnout substantially.
  1. Values mismatch. Values mismatches may be avoided through the hiring process. “Hiring someone whose values and goals do not align with the values and goals of the organization’s culture may result in lower job satisfaction and negatively impact mental health.” It’s likely that someone who doesn’t share in the organization’s mission will be unhappy and unproductive, too. Employees can also become disillusioned if an organization doesn’t stand up for its own values, leading to withdrawal. Organizations that communicate values clearly and strive to fulfill their mission will more likely have satisfied employees.