Experts estimate that employee burnout translates into a loss of anywhere from $150 to $350 billion annually for U.S. businesses. Strategies such as setting boundaries, delegating and prioritizing are great de-stressors. But burnout prevention demands much more: management’s pervasive and dedicated standard from top down that time away from the office is an integral part of the work inside the office.
The World Health Organization (WHO)
Earlier this year the World Health Organization reached a milestone, officially classifying burnout as a medical diagnosis, including the condition in the International Classification of Diseases, the handbook that guides medical providers in diagnosing diseases. Burnout appears in the handbook’s section on problems associated with employment or unemployment. It describes burnout as, “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Three symptoms can help you recognize it: “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”
The New Normal: Work/Life Integration
Study after study has shown that when employees thrive the organization thrives, and workers who are refreshed and energized outperform their worn-down colleagues. Now that burnout is officially a chronic workplace crisis, more companies realize it’s to their advantage to promote the well-being of employees and healthy work environments. More Fortune 100 companies are finding that integrated time off during the workweek and onsite meditation and yoga benefit both payroll and personnel. Three innovative burnout prevention practices: Gamification at NICE, Thrive Time at Thrive Global, and Signing Off With Blood, Fire and How Much? at Maestro Health are leading the way to a new normal.
Rich Correia, Director of Product marketing at NICE, a $1B CX Company, told me they are particularly aware that burnout within organizations is a hot topic in today’s business environment: “One of the causes of burnout is simply related to long hours to meet tight deadlines or an overabundance of activities that hits an individual at the same time. At NICE, we have found that during these times, it’s essential for our employees to take some time off after the project is done or even while the project is going on. Taking a day or two to regroup and focus on things other than work can certainly mitigate burnout and give an employee room to breathe.” Correia also says that NICE sponsors employee activities at work and outside of work often including spouses and kids as a distraction to get employee’s minds away from the job for a while. Employees can control their schedules and make changes by swapping or trading shifts or requesting time off when they need a break. Gamification—the integration of game mechanics into the pursuit of job goals, earning points along the way—is one of NICE’s most imaginary practices to motivate participation, engagement and loyalty among the workforce. As they accumulate, the points enhance work performance, job satisfaction and employee comradery.Today In: Leadership
Arianna Huffington, Founder and CEO of The Huffington Post and Thrive Global, echoes the work-life integration policy at NICE. Huffington has dedicated her professional career to burnout prevention after her own burnout caused her to collapse from sleep deprivation and exhaustion, breaking her cheekbone. Under her leadership Thrive Global is creating innovative practices that have huge implications for companies worldwide. Huffington describes her organization’s innovative practice called “Thrive Time” as part of the ordinary workday: “While vacations are essential—and we encourage everybody to take them—much better than trying unsuccessfully to make up for burnout is to be proactive about preventing it in the first place. At Thrive we do this through what we all ‘Thrive Time.’ It’s based on the recognition that, of course, getting results and meeting deadlines often requires putting in extra time and going the extra mile. And that’s certainly true at Thrive. Thrive Time is what allows us to sustain that. It means taking time off to recover and recharge after you’ve met the deadline, shipped the product or worked over the weekend. It could be a few hours, a morning, a whole day or even more.
Signing Off With ‘Blood, Fire And How Much?’
Sheryl Simmons, Chief Human Resources Officer at Maestro Health, promotes heightened awareness that unless companies take deliberate actions, they perpetuate the “always on” work culture that can easily be connected 24/7 by technology—counter to the dinosaur practice of “signing off” like television stations of bygone days. The policy at Maestro Health is to cultivate “work-life integration” instead of “work-life balance.” This practice includes not only taking a vacation but also employers encouraging employees to “sign off” by creating workforce awareness and discernment around: “Is it urgent?” or “Can this wait until morning?” By the same token, Simmons recommends that employers set an example by asking, “Is this worthy of interrupting my employee’s down time and giving them a reason to doubt my commitment to their well-being?” In her own words, Simmons describes how she came up with the idea of blood, fire and how much? “When my team takes time off of work, I use the same rule I did while raising my kids: ‘blood, fire and how much?’ Unless the house is burning down or someone is gushing blood, is it really necessary to interrupt someone on their time away? While everyone struggles with truly disconnecting, especially at the c-level, we all need to hold ourselves accountable. In fact, buy-in to disconnecting after-hours starts here. If leadership truly leads by example, curating a culture of work-life integration becomes not only a possibility, but a norm.” Simmons believes that engagement is a “wildly effective tool” in staving off burnout. It cultivates a culture of connection, communication and collaboration—one of the first steps to help employees find career purpose. “Purpose driven employees, within an employer ecosystem of balance, have a marked advantage to living holistically healthier lives; that’s when we all win,” Simmons concludes.