Mental Health

Searches for ‘burnout’ recently hit an all-time high. One HR leader says big burnout-prevention policies might miss the mark.

Burnout prevention requires a variety of tactics, according to one CPO
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· 3 min read

Burnout refuses to uh, burn out. In April, Google searches for “burnout” reached an all-time high, Quartz reported. It’s the third year of the pandemic, and the phenomenon—defined by the World Health Organization as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”—has been difficult to eliminate, much like the virus that some say has exacerbated burnout.

Employers say addressing burnout remains a priority, and many organizations have enacted plans to help counter burnout among their workers. Some are even experimenting with real-time burnout dashboards in an attempt to mitigate turnover. Nevertheless, as Google Trends data suggests, burnout persists. But why?

Charlie Judy, chief people and culture officer at the health-care data company Intelligent Medical Objects, believes there’s no single approach to addressing burnout that works for organizations across the board.

“We understand that there’s more [burnout] in the workplace now, but we don’t understand what that really means,” he told HR Brew in a recent phone call.

One size doesn’t fit all. Burnout is opaque, Judy argued, meaning that it presents differently across employees. “It can mean that I’ve lost focus, I’ve lost interest, that I’m physically exhausted. It could mean that I’m reaching the point of…anxiety overload. It could mean all of those things,” he said.

This is also true for the causes of burnout, he explained. For example, some people might experience burnout because the lines between work and life have become blurred while working remotely. Working in an office with other people, he argued, “is a social, mental [and] physical alleviation of stress, anxiety…we are social human beings. And unfortunately, much of that comes from our interaction at work.”

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But others might feel that going to an office is what burns them out. “There are people that have just as much burnout because they have to get on the road every day, catch a train…and by the time they get home, dinner’s done, their kids are ready for bed.”

Real talk. When it comes to organizational measures to tackle burnout, “it probably needs to be responded to in a much more individualized way” than one-size-fits-all policies. Judy also contends that managers need to prioritize cultivating real, human relationships with their teams. “Regularly, there needs to be that common conversation that is not attached to a specific to-do list, or project, or deadline,” Judy said.

When it comes to programs like unlimited PTO, mental-health days, and no-meeting days, Judy said “you can and should have those things,” but a question remains: “How do you humanize [those interventions]? Because we’re solving for something that is very human right now.”

Judy believes managers need to “get better at reaching out and being intentional about having real, meaningful conversations with people.” And he thinks one vital topic of these conversations is work-life balance.

“How do we make sure we teach people…not how to be more productive, but how not to allow your job to become your life?” Judy asked.—SB

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HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

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