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Research and surveys across the globe are showing that there has been a dramatic increase in stress and burnout in the workplace. While the hangover from the pandemic and lockdowns continue, much of the workforce in most countries must now also contend with dramatically increased costs of living and uncertainty about the future. They also need to continue attempts to perform at previous levels as well as maintain personal and family relationships.

The reality is that life is very hard right now, and for many employees, showing up to work and trying to deliver their best feels like drawing blood from a stone. People are worn thin. 

While most will put on a brave face at work, leaders should be aware that burnout, while invisible, is a reality they need to recognize and take into account when dealing with their teams.

Facts about burnout

According to the Maslach Burnout Inventory, burnout is characterized by:

1) feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion

2) increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, and 

3) reduced professional efficacy, meaning low evaluation of one’s workplace performance.

Some recent US statistics around burnout indicate that:

Burnout will undoubtedly have an impact on workplaces and teams unless good leaders step in.

During lockdown, there was empathy and awareness about what people were going through and accommodation was made for that, with support structures put in place. 

Post-pandemic, workplaces have mostly returned to normal in terms of logistics (albeit with greater variety in terms of work distribution), but employees mostly have not.

Employee burnout is a ticking time bomb, and leaders should act proactively, not wait for the proverbial bomb to burst, as that will be too late.

Protecting employees from burnout

It doesn’t take a leadership expert to recognize how the above can have a severe impact on a company’s well-being, culture, and ultimately bottom line. 

Thus the need for leaders and managers to consider how they can support employees for the foreseeable future until equilibrium returns.

The most important first step is for employers and managers to realize and understand that the general workforce is on a knife’s edge, and then introduce small but impactful interventions.

It is neither realistic nor desirable to reduce core deliverables for individual employees. Yet, what needs to go – and honestly, should’ve gone a long time ago – is so-called “busywork”.

Reducing “busywork”

“Busywork” is the actions and behaviors which were in the past required for career climbers, but which became de facto ways of working across all levels.

Examples of “busywork” can include:

  • Attending endless and pointless meetings
  • Scheduling meetings that could have been an e-mail
  • Coming in early, leaving late, 
  • Spending hours on box-ticking writing of reports that disappear into a black hole as soon as they are done
  • Attending evening work functions or weekend team building exercises… 

“Busywork” has become a real pain point for employees who are already stretched thin, professionally and personally.

Most people are appreciative of and value their jobs, and will continue to try their best despite challenging circumstances. Yet, motivation and pushing through can only take you so far. 

Bottom line

Leaders need to recognize that they have a role to play – in their own and the company’s interests. At the very least, they need to be empathetic and try to make things easier where possible.

If employees are treated as whole people with whole lives, and their boundaries respected, this will help limit and contain the extent of burnout individually and within a company. This will then, in turn, ensure greater commitment, loyalty, productivity, and engagement.

Who is the author?

Advaita Naidoo

Advaita Naidoo is the MD Africa of Jack Hammer Global.

While completing her Masters in Research Psychology, she embarked on a brief but successful career in academia, where her work was published internationally and recognized as a meaningful contributor to several studies. 

As MD of Jack Hammer’s Africa business, Advaita manages the end-to-end business activities that make Africa’s largest boutique search firm the undisputed success it is. 

Her natural commercial acumen and insights gleaned from ongoing learning have helped companies make sound business decisions. Her wisdom comes packaged with a sharp intellect and dry wit, making any engagement with her a mentally stimulating interaction!

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Advaita Naidoo

Advaita Naidoo is the MD Africa of Jack Hammer Global. While completing her Masters in Research Psychology, she embarked on a brief but successful career in academia, where her work was published internationally and recognized as a meaningful contributor to several studies.  As MD of Jack Hammer’s Africa business, Advaita manages the end-to-end business activities that make Africa’s largest boutique search firm the undisputed success it is.  Her natural commercial acumen and insights gleaned from ongoing learning have helped companies make sound business decisions. Her wisdom comes packaged with a sharp intellect and dry wit, making any engagement with her a mentally stimulating interaction!

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