This page is optimized for a taller screen.
Please rotate your device or increase the size of your browser window.
Six Ways Organizations Can Prevent and Reduce Burnout
May 24, 2022
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, a chance to highlight the importance of mental health. Increasingly, workplace mental health and burnout has become part of this conversation, as evidenced by the Surgeon General’s recent report on Addressing Health Worker Burnout. Burnout is defined as a state of emotional, mental and often physical exhaustion brought on by prolonged or repeated stress.
COVID-19 has exacerbated rates of burnout throughout the country. The American Psychological Association’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey reported that 79% of respondents experienced work-related stress in the previous month, and 59% reported negative impacts of work-related stress, including lack of interest, motivation, or energy, difficulty focusing, and lack of effort at work.
Programs to support individual resiliency and well-being are a common response to mitigating burnout. However, these initiatives put the onus of burnout on the individual, not the broader structures in place that create a culture of overwork and high stress.
Instead, organizations should consider broader organizational culture and climate changes that can improve the environment to reduce burnout:
Recognize and acknowledge all required tasks and staff responsibilities, and the time it takes to do that work. In some organizations, administrative work or ongoing documentation is required but not included in compensation plans, and often feels like unpaid work to staff.
Consider ways to maximize staff autonomy and control within their roles. For example, let employees give input on job descriptions and allow flexible or staff-created schedules whenever possible.
Be transparent about promotions, pay schedules, and benefits. Creating and using set policies for promotions and pay can increase staff perceptions of equity and fairness across an organization. Encourage staff to use their paid time off – they earned it and should use it to fully disconnect from work.
Cultivate teamwork and shared community. Create avenues for staff to connect and share experiences. It’s especially important that staff are compensated for this time of vital culture-building.
Create avenues for genuine, meaningful staff appreciation. While monetary rewards may not always be possible, other rewards—such as public and private praise, appreciation events, and professional development—provide additional incentives that are intrinsic to staff motivation and morale.
Ensure organizational culture changes align with corporate and employee values. Many staff work in organizations with values that align with their own; aligning organizational changes with shared values may help create and sustain motivation for change.
At Abt Associates, we recognize the need to change our organizational culture and climate to address burnout, both by implementing strategies to reduce overwork and decrease stress. Abt has implemented several policies and practices to improve our global culture and work climate, especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.
At the start of the pandemic, Abt developed a flexible work policy, allowing staff to spread hours across work weeks. For example, if a staff member cannot complete their work hours in a given week, they can flex those hours to the next week to avoid taking paid time off.
When our entire workforce went remote, all staff received a stipend to pay for home office equipment.
Abt’s return-to-work strategy gave all employees the choice between in-person, remote, or hybrid options. For staff who opt to work from home, Abt provided a stipend for supplemental home-office purchases.
After a successful pilot, Abt instituted “no meeting Wednesdays.”
The Wellness@Abt Employee Network Group and Human Resources collaborated to provide more than a dozen events, webinars and other activities focused on supporting employee mental health at work.
To mitigate and reduce high levels of burnout and the impact of the “great resignation,” organizations need to look internally to promote and sustain cultures of wellness, equity, and staff support. These six principles can help companies design meaningful changes to improve employees’ work-life balance and mental health.