Burnout continues to take organizations by storm. The APA’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey found that "Nearly 3 in 5 employees reported negative impacts of work-related stress, including lack of interest, motivation, or energy (26%) and lack of effort at work (19%). Meanwhile, 36% reported cognitive weariness, 32% reported emotional exhaustion, and an astounding 44% reported physical fatigue—a 38% increase since 2019." These trends are not very encouraging and shine a light on toxic cultures that exasperate these problems.
Toxic cultures create an untenable relationship between employees and the organization. As burnout seeps in, there's no room for it, and the hamster wheel of expectations will push your employees out the door.
People are exhausted, but the good news is that leaders can take practical steps to genuinely care about employee well-being and foster compassion in the workplace. Fulfilling work is just around the corner.
1. Utilize Healthy Self-Awareness
Self-awareness is one way to start the process of steadying the ship when you're feeling overwhelmed by stress or burned out by the demands of the workplace. Reactionary leaders wait until it's too late. Proactive leaders learn to recognize their warning signs by taking stock of their mental health, performance, and well-being daily. Understanding how and why you operate at your best is essential to understanding the warning signs when your body or culture tells you to take a break.
Promoting self-awareness in the workplace leans on social awareness. Checking in with people and creating a heightened understanding of the warning signs for your teammates and coworkers builds camaraderie beyond the trite "Kumbaya" team-building exercises. Creating this level of proactive and genuine care aids in creating more fulfillment in the workplace. Illustrating to others that their needs matter here shows their value to the culture beyond simple productivity.
2. Practice Positive Intent
Entering into difficult conversations requires a shift in mindset, whether leading conflict, shifting expectations, or conveying genuine care. Practicing positive intent means assuming that our coworkers want to do their best. Positive intent shows that care is more than a word on a list of core values. Leadership is fundamentally about bringing out the best in others.
Assuming negative intent shifts our judgment and points the finger at others. Positive intent creates community and welcomes everyone into the fold. What kind of team do you want to be a part of? What kind of team do you want to create?
Care combines intent with action.
3. Move Beyond Empathy
As burnout continues to take over our broader workplace culture, one of the greater temptations leaders face is to believe that empathy is sufficient when engaging with stressed out and overwhelmed employees. Traditionally, building the bridge to a greater understanding of the frustrations is valuable.
Empathy is simply the first step. Stopping there hinders action that leads to meaningful change. Addressing the problems that fuel burnout requires a compassionate response. Compassion comes into play when leaders take those actionable steps toward change.
Jacqueline Carter & Rasmus Hougaard found that "followers whose leaders show a compassion preference are 25% more engaged in their jobs. They are also 20% more committed to the organization and have an 11% lower risk of burnout." Leaders must make action a priority for compassion to take root in their organizations. The results will provide restoration in the short term and pay dividends down the road. Genuine care will permeate your team and improve your culture.