I see employee burnout all the time. It’s not a new phenomenon in the tech industry. It’s often pushed to the side and hushed up, but addiction and burnout are a big problem for a lot of otherwise high-performing technology workers. I would estimate 1 out of every 20 coaching candidates that comes to FORWARD have hit rock bottom as a direct result of burnout.
The World Health Organisation estimates that stress is costing US businesses an estimated $300 billion every year. It is also a major contributor to rising healthcare costs. Employees with high stress levels have healthcare costs on average 46 percent higher than low stress employees. Employee burnout contributes to both addiction and mental health disorders. In Silicon Valley, the 48-hour sleepless work binge is held up with a badge of honour along with 18-hour days among tech workers. There are also a number of high profile CEOs famous for their sleep deprived lifestyle, and the pressure they put on their employees to follow suit. Being over-scheduled is equated with being successful. However, these practices are actually counter-productive to building a high achieving workforce. In other words, what can be characterized as the typical American work culture, despite historical levels of high achievement, had it very wrong all these years. Employee burnout does more harm than good.
The causes of employee burnout are numerous. The long list includes: working long hours, lack of sleep, unwieldy workloads, inability to meet personal needs, constantly feeling the need to prove oneself beyond his or her limits, unclear of unrealistic job expectations, inadequate compensation, unresolved conflict with a boss, monotonous work, lack of control over schedule and assignments, inadequate access to necessary resources and support to complete work, inability to influence decisions that affect an employees job, feeling isolated, and poor job fit for interests, skills and abilities. It’s a big giant mess of dysfunction. The red flag is that most organizations are mismanaging their way into fostering an epidemic of burnout employees. Hope resides in the fact that companies are beginning to realize this culture is counter-productive and its not serving the interests of the company’s bottom line either.
Arianna Huffington defines burnout as the disease of our time. We’re finally beginning to ask: What’s wrong? The big aha is that a healthy workforce is a productive workforce. In hindsight, it seems rather obvious. As Huffington points out in the Third Metric, there’s a lot more to life than money and power. And the blind pursuit of money and power actually blocks us from experiencing true fulfilment. We are just now beginning to see a push toward work life balance and re-defining what success means to us. Companies are beginning to integrate wellness programs and other perks into their corporate culture that support overall wellbeing. Technology companies such as Google, Facebook and many others are leading the way in this trend through their workplace culture of perks. These companies are implementing these policies because the data tells them that workers productivity increases as a result of them. And technology companies are not the only ones changing. The US private health Insurance company, Aetna discovered after implementing yoga, acupuncture and meditation to its 34, 000 employees, there was also a seven percent drop in healthcare costs and an increase of 69 minutes of additional productivity every day.
The bottom line employee burnout is bad for people and business. The answer: implement policies that monitor employees hours and vacation days to ensure they actually use their vacation, providing access to yoga and meditation, flexible work schedules, external coaches and even providing employees with access and space to pursue their hobbies or interests outside of work are all part of creating a work culture that supports employees well-being. These practices create a more profitable and productive company. It’s time to rethink how we work and what we value in order to support a workforce that thrives.
Caroline Stokes is the founder of FORWARD Human Capital Solutions. FORWARD does things differently for people in digital organisations who demand inspiring talent solutions for transformative results.