I was a guest speaker hired to give a motivational speech to an organization to help them enhance wellness.
It was clear the attendees were stressed out, cynical, burnt out and at the end of their ropes. As a guest speaker, I had to fill out a third report to itemize the second report I was required to complete, I began to understand that this company is the root cause of its own burnout. People become cynical when they have to fill out reports to explain mundane things like why they need a bathroom break.
Burnout is often built into the very structure of an organization. Tell tale signs workplace wellness is suffering:
- Impossible goals
- Just-plain-stupid policies and procedures that show a lack of trust
- Lack of clarity in roles
- Pointless meetings
- Consistent attempts to take the human element out of the work
- Lack of inspiration, appreciation and recognition
Changing the dynamics of an organization like this usually requires an entire culture shift, with the biggest shift is toward a new perspective. It starts with giving people the benefit of the doubt, honoring staff wellness, clarifying roles, reducing meaningless rules and paperwork, establishing policies that give leeway for trust, recognizing the human element and appreciating people a lot. Changes like that don't happen overnight and require a strong commitment from leadership.
Restructure to Decrease the Workload
The result of overload are resentment and frustration. If employees are overworkedand the organization wants to focus on wellness and be more healthy and productive, the staff needs to have less work. It’s contrary to popular belief, but less work allows for the time spent on work duties to be more focused, more productive with fewer mistakes. Employees will be happier, healthier and more positive. Stress management tecniques that encourage wellness will become a priority.
People often spend time at work at the expense of their families, even though we can get new jobs and we can’t get new families. One of the best managers I have ever had wrote employees' important “family dates” on her calendar (soccer games, vacations, recitals) and made sure those shifts were covered. The employees who worked late consistently were told to go home. That manager understood that the bottom line is if employees spend too much time at work it puts pressure on family which puts pressure on the employee wellness and lowers productivity . . . and everyone loses. Reflecting on their lives, nobody ever says "I wish I spent more time at work;" instead, we hear "I wish I'd spent more time with family."
At a conference the guest speaker quoted Evan Robinson's article, "Why Crunch Mode Doesn't Work." I looked up the reference:
More than a century of studies show that long-term useful worker output is maximized near a five-day, 40-hour workweek. Productivity drops immediately upon starting overtime and continues to drop until, at approximately eight 60-hour weeks, the total work done is the same as what would have been done in eight 40-hour weeks.
In the short term, working over 21 hours continuously is equivalent to being legally drunk. Longer periods of continuous work drastically reduce wellness and cognitive function and increase the chance of catastrophic error. In both the short-and long-term, reducing sleep hours as little as one hour nightly can result in a severe decrease in cognitive ability, sometimes without workers perceiving the decrease. (Evan Robinson)
Sometimes work can just be restructured to reduce workload. For instance, people who are more focused on results than on policies that require paperwork are more productive.
Clarifying roles and establishing meaningful goals decrease workload and emotional stress related to work. Very often work roles are redundant, inefficient and unorganized. Get to the bottom of it by letting employees - those who actually do the work and understand the flow - restructure their own roles and goals. The result will be leadership, increased wellness and employee ownership.
Appreciate the Human Element
There is nothing worse than being treated like a machine, designed only for function. The more you try to replace the human element with technology and functional outcome, the less human an organization becomes. Our customers, our employees, and our shareholders are all human. When we introduce technology to simplify our work it often requires people to multitask (do several things at the same time), but research shows we can only really focus on one thing at a time. The result is that we don’t do as well with the job and mistakes often occur.
When we focus on technology and quick results, we lose the human connection. It takes time to slow down and connect, build rapport and really establish relationships based on people, not productivity and results.
And in the long run it’s worth the effort.
As an employee in an organization like this, recognize there is only so much you can do. If you are being pushed to the limits and in the throes of burnout that no stress management seminar could fix, your first action should be to take time for yourself, to engage in some deep self-reflection and look for the root causes of the burnout issue. Then, consider action steps to reduce or eliminate the degree of burnout you are experiencing. Also be a wellness advocate and speak to company employees the virtues of stress management.
Workplace Wellness Guest Speaker Jody Urquhart