Not just surviving: Addressing burnout through building a thriving organisation

Many organisations have successfully navigated an incredibly challenging few years. COVID-19 and other illnesses, global economic uncertainty, and winter storms are just of few of the challenges faced. With the impacts of climate change already evident, managing disruption is becoming part of business as usual.
But there is a big difference between surviving and thriving.

Reports of rapidly rising burnout are an international phenomenon, from which NZ is not immune. Recognising the well-being challenges of their employees, many organisations have invested in initiatives like providing wellness benefits or mental health awareness campaigns. While this is laudable, organisations often overlook the key causes of burnout.

Burnout is defined by McKinsey as:

It is driven by a chronic imbalance between job demands (for example, workload pressure and poor working environment) and job resources (for example, job autonomy and supportive work relationships). It is characterised by extreme tiredness, reduced ability to regulate cognitive and emotional processes, and mental distancing.

This definition demonstrates the key role that organisations play in reducing workplace burnout. However, organisations are slow to realise this.

In a recent global study of nearly 15,000 employees and 1000 HR decision makers the McKinsey Health Institute found that “employers are overlooking the role of the workplace in burnout and underinvesting in systemic solutions.”

Dr. Lucy Hone, Co-Director NZIWR, also highlights, the role that organisations play in reducing burnout:

“Burnout is not just the inability to cope with stress on behalf of the individual concerned. Far from being individual failing, burnout out should be viewed as the individual’s response to systemic challenges - and/or sustained stress with no let-up. For this reason, it is highly irresponsible and unfair for organisations to offer staff resilience training if they are not prepared to back this up with a realistic and transparent appraisal of how workplace burdens impact their teams. If burnout results from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed, prevention is as much the responsibility of executive leaders, and people leaders, as it is personal.“

Providing individual well-being support does not address the key workplace factors that can and do erode personal wellbeing.

Addressing systemic organisational issues will have more impact on reducing burnout than individual wellbeing initiatives. The underlying causes of workplace burnout can be addressed through

  • managing workloads,
  • increasing opportunities for staff autonomy,
  • ensuring strong organisational values and clarity of purpose,
  • building a positive, supportive, fair culture that recognises staff contributions, and
  • collaborative working.
Addressing underlying causes of burnout also has the benefit of growing organisational resilience. This is no coincidence! 

Over a decade of research into organisational resilience shows that quality leadership, authentic staff engagement, clear unity of purpose and strong reciprocal relationships all contribute to an increased ability to manage crises and disruption. 

The holistic view offered by an organisational resilience perspective may offer the best solution that both addresses your burnout issues and builds your organisation’s long-term ability to not just survive but thrive no matter what comes next.

Want to talk more about organisational resilience and employee wellbeing? 
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