Burnout - the Elephant in the Room
Let’s talk about the elephant in the room- burnout. Whether or not you’re addressing it, that elephant is there, large and in charge.
Blind (a workplace app for the tech industry) reported in 2018 that 57.16% of tech employees are burning out. That number went down in 2019. But that number isn’t just back up in 2020, it’s climbing. Of those surveyed in February, 61% said they’re burned out. In May, that number grew to 73%. Burnout has risen by 12% due to COVID-19 in four weeks. Why?
- Fear of job security causes people to work harder and longer hours to prove they are an asset to the company. 23% of tech workers have experienced layoffs due to COVID-19.
- Increased workload. Lots of tech companies are seeing an influx of business due to essential services and are having trouble scaling.
- Lack of managerial support. The switch to remote isn’t like a light switch. You can’t turn it on and expect things to work as they did before. It’s quite common that the switch to remote work highlights communication breakdowns and opportunities in leadership.
- Loneliness. The reality is we’re facing some variance of working from home until there is a vaccine. What do bored people do who don’t feel they have a purpose? Work.
The good news is you can take about all this information and flip it on its head for the solution.
First, what is burnout? How do you spot it? Take this quiz to see if you’re burned out.
Here are some ways to recognize it in your team.
- Energy depletion or exhaustion - insomnia, depression, forgetfulness, loss of appetite, calling in sick more often.
- Increased negativity, dissonance, anger, irritability, pessimism, or distancing.
- Reduced efficacy.
Now, what can be done about it? You’re actually more likely to burn out if you love your job or feel purpose-driven in your work. Burnout usually means that people don’t need help aligning with the purpose or needs of the moment. Instead, look to them for the solutions.
- Set tech boundaries. I think we all are always inches away from our phones at any given moment. Don’t email your people at 11 PM. Most everything can wait until the next morning.
- Talk to your people. Schedule occasional one-on-one check-ins. Send an anonymous poll. Take their feedback to heart. See what expectations you can manage, workloads you can shuffle, or simply show that you’re listening. And the things you don’t have control over, communicate that.
- Destigmatize and make clear the mental health resources available to them.
- Encourage people to take time off if they need it. They’ll likely bounce back faster if they take breaks and be far more productive when they return. Yes, there is a concern with the workload for the remaining staff. Come up with a contingency plan for absences and communicate clear expectations around changes in workload.
- Walk the walk. Prioritize self-care and balance in how you’re looking at your day. Do the same when considering how you communicate with your team.
It may be hard to see the hidden costs of burnout. From Dr. James Campbell Quick: "There are huge, if sometimes hard to calculate, financial costs associated with poor mental health at work. The US Air Force HR team at one logistics depot of 13,000 employees estimated that there were over $33 million in costs avoided because the commanding general had hired a full-time psychologist.” In healthcare spending alone, workplace stress costs $125 to $190 billion annually.
Burnout can indicate a company may have trouble seeing the woods for the trees. When you hear a rattle in your car engine, you take it into a mechanic to make sure you don’t run into trouble down the road. In today’s climate, it may be hard to justify costs for support. But I think the numbers say it all - you can’t afford not to in the long-term.