It requires a concerted effort by every organisation to get to the root causes of burnouts and breakdowns, and not just solve them at a superficial level
By Pooja Jauhari
One of the main factors that come in the way of mental well-being is burnout. Burnout is simply emotional exhaustion from one’s workplace — that feeling of being stretched, disregarded, and not motivated enough, so much so that quitting seems to be the only option. No opportunity feels exciting and monotony sets in. Burnouts are expensive for the individual; expensive for the company and, eventually, expensive to the overall industry. For individuals, this leads to many other problems — anxiety, sleep deprivation and, in serious cases, even cardiovascular issues. For companies, burnt-out employees cost millions — low productivity, losing good talent and, with it, institutional knowledge, new talent acquisition and mainly time and money in training and re-training. For the industry, it just causes a dearth of great talent, which in itself is a depressing and expensive situation.
Genuine burnouts happen to everyone, from a CEO to an intern. It is not just a middle management problem. It is everybody’s problem. It needs more focus than just having a day off. So, what leads to burnouts? The obvious, excessive workload, lack of opportunities, feeling left out from big promotions/ projects, bullying and harassment, and lack of stimulation beyond work, and losing control of one’s true self.
All of the above have solutions that can impact an employee’s well-being. For instance, excessive workload is usually a result of the lack of processes and structures due to which high-level performers are overloaded and a large talent pool just gets by. In Reed Hastings’ book about the Netflix culture, the one point that stood out was the need for companies to reward high performers and keep a keen eye on those who aren’t. He mentions how burnt-out high performers would usually leave a good company because HR and management took too long to have a non-performer course-correct.
A conducive workplace
Lack of opportunities are usually due to bad leadership or non-diverse leadership. The efforts so many companies have taken today to ensure genuine diversity have resulted in more and more women and talent with diverse, non-traditional backgrounds staying and growing at the workplace.
Bullying and harassment have never been more central than they are today. The #TimesUp and #MeToo movements have pushed us forward so quickly that, today, most organisations have taken this very seriously. Occasions where extremely senior leaders have been fired for being inappropriate, instead of simply sweeping such incidents under the carpet, have been crucial to build emotional safety. When an organisation and board act with swiftness, it creates a sense of being heard and wanted among its talent. So, hard work days feel fine, because one feels safe and appreciated.
Lastly, solving for lack of stimulation and work-life balance has been one the biggest achievements of the professional world during the pandemic. Companies like Google and LinkedIn announcing that talent can work remotely for the foreseeable future, has completely changed the game. The fact that we can truly achieve work-life balance or achieve more experiences than our usually busy city lives would allow, has had an extremely positive impact on mental well-being.
I truly believe that employee well-being and sound mental health are not just about ‘Mental Health Days’. It requires a concerted effort by every organisation to get to the root causes of burnouts and breakdowns, and not just solve them at a superficial level. This is my mission on a daily basis: learning and course-correcting from the root. After all, for companies to win with their consumers, they must first win with their employees.