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  • Writer's pictureMbali Chaise

Unleashing the Burnout Beast: How Your Workplace Plays a Role

Before we welcomed the year 2018, the term "Burnout" was as ambiguous to me as a complex riddle. Like many professionals of that time, I held the belief that being overworked and stressed was simply part and parcel of the job - a price you had to pay if you aspired to ascend the corporate ladder. That was until I faced a harsh reality check and experienced it first-hand. It was nothing short of an eye-opener! I felt its tangible impact on my physical health and mental well-being, and believe me, it's not an experience I'd endorse.

Fast forward to today, "burnout" has evolved from being just a term to becoming a trending hashtag, a buzzword that echoes in every nook and corner of the professional world. And it hardly comes as a surprise. The World Health Organization has officially recognized burnout as a legitimate "syndrome" resulting from unmanaged chronic workplace stress. And let's face it, this stress monster has been wreaking havoc among employees globally, particularly since the onset of the pandemic.

"Burnout is not caused by working long hours. It is caused by feeling unappreciated, ineffective, or lacking control." - Rosabeth Moss Kanter

A Culture of Over Availability

Let's dive into the nitty-gritty, shall we? A key instigator of burnout is this pervasive culture of always being 'on'. When 2020 hit and our daily commutes became a thing of the past, we filled that spare time with more work. Suddenly, our calendars were crammed with back-to-back virtual meetings with no end in sight.

And our clients? When they began spending more time in the office, they weren't exactly jumping for joy. They disclosed finding themselves having to rejig their train schedules on a daily basis to accommodate the onslaught of meetings. Talk about piling stress upon stress!

The line between work and personal life began to blur, and not in a good way. Even our designated office days morphed into "work-from-home" days as we found ourselves sacrificing personal time to make up for those lost commuting hours, or to sneak in a last-minute meeting. It's a relentless vicious cycle that leaves us feeling drained and, let's be honest, on the fast track to burnout.

One Size Fits Few

Hold on, there's more to it! Have you ever considered how most workplaces seem to be tailored for an imaginary "average" individual? Indeed, it's a reality. From the way the lights are positioned to the ergonomics of your chair, from the layout of the seating to the decibel level of office chatter - it all appears to be specially designed for this fictitious Average Joe. And why not Jane, you might ask? Well, that's a discussion for another article...

But what does this all mean? It implies that the rest of us must exert additional energy to deal with the stress this creates.

Unacceptable, don't you agree?

But here's the real eye-opener: it's not solely about conventional office spaces. Even our home offices can lead to burnout. We yearn for diversity, new environments, and interactions with various people. It's about enhancing our home-based work experience with new encounters and engaging interactions.

So, is your workplace to blame for burnout, or can it be the remedy?

Some employers are rushing to bring everyone back to the office, but without careful consideration, this move might create more problems than it solves. Going back to an outdated office setup can seriously hamper productivity, and innovation, and skyrocket stress levels.

Let's talk about some stress factors that outdated offices bring to the table:

  • First, there's the issue of Connections. Employees often find themselves grappling with technology in both individual and collaborative spaces. Hunting down IT support or searching for the right cable just adds frustration and kills productivity. Not a great recipe for success, right?

  • Then we have Noise levels. Open offices have always struggled with noise, but with the influx of virtual meetings, things have gotten worse. Most spaces aren't optimized to handle the increase in calls. The lack of sound masking and absorbent materials only adds to the distraction and stress.

  • Isolation is another key factor. Employees often feel isolated at work, whether it's due to low attendance in their area or the perception of it because of all the unused workstations. We're missing those casual run-ins with co-workers outside of our direct teams, and it's taking a toll. No wonder more people prefer to work from home when booking spots with their teammates is a hassle.

  • And let's not forget about the dreaded Internal Commutes. If your workplace isn't designed to promote collaboration and smooth transitions between team neighbourhoods, meeting delays become a frustrating norm. No one has the time or patience for that!

  • Privacy is also a hot topic. Many workers struggle to find places that offer audio or visual privacy. We need those low-sensory spaces where we can focus or have confidential conversations, but they're in short supply.

  • Lastly, the Design and Location of the office itself can contribute to burnout. If it hasn't kept up with technology advancements or fails to support hybrid and in-person collaboration, it's holding your workforce back. One-size-fits-all locations are missing out on better operating models that could truly benefit your team.

So, considering all the inconsistent tech connections, long commutes between teams, and noisy or lonely offices, it's safe to say your workplace is probably adding to your stress levels. But fear not! By bringing awareness to these sources of strain, you can create a roadmap for enhancing engagement and efficiency. It's time to re-evaluate your systems, adapt them to serve the future of your organisation and establish proper boundaries to support your people.

But how do we go about making those changes?

Well, it's all about a People-First approach to change management. Get your employees involved in the process and make adjustments along the way. By engaging with a workplace change manager and focusing on employee buy-in, you'll pave the way for a smoother transition. Employees will feel more comfortable with the pace of change, and that's a win-win situation.

Team Agreements are another powerful tool. They give employees a platform to define best practices for working together, reducing stress levels. By formalizing new practices, you'll restore employee focus on what truly matters and ensure that your organizational values shine through in every interaction. And hey, why not map out cross-functional relationships with the help of workplace specialists to ensure seamless collaboration?

Lastly, embrace Time flexibility. With the right team agreements in place, you can adopt flexible work practices that allow certain tasks and communication to happen asynchronously. This opens up schedules, reduces meeting frequency, and gives employees more opportunities for deep focus, resulting in higher-quality work. Plus, it helps balance caregiving responsibilities or allows for some much-needed self-care, like those mid-day walks that rejuvenate the soul.

There are many quick wins you can adopt to prevent your workspace from remaining a persistent stress and burnout hotspot for your employees. However, due to the scope of this article or perhaps not wanting to delve into that Pandora's box just yet, i will leave this for another day. If you are interested in exploring this topic further, don't hesitate to reach out.

In conclusion....

Your workplace environment doesn't have to be a hotbed for burnout. It's high time we identified and addressed the stressors. Remember, a happy and healthy team is also a productive one. Let's strive to create workplaces that genuinely nurture people and pave their way to success. By working together, we can overcome burnout and foster a flourishing work environment.


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