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Employee Burnout Doesn’t Happen in a Vacuum

Employee burnout is a hot topic right now, as it very well should be. A July 2021 survey by The Hartford found that 55% of US employees reported feeling always burned out while 16% said they often feel burned out. And study after study has shown that levels of burnout in the American workforce are all-time highs with no signs of dropping. We also know that burnout is one of the factors fueling our current Great Resignation in which employees are leaving their jobs in droves.

At this point in time, if you are an employer or manager who does not realize that employee burnout is a very real issue, something is wrong. Whether employee burnout is real isn’t the question. Rather, the question is: what do we do about it?

As a wellness provider and an employee wellness program provider, specifically, I can say with confidence that employee burnout does not happen in a vacuum. It’s not an isolated incident and it is not the sole responsibility of the employee. The employee does not choose to wallow in stress and burn out. Management plays a critical and massive role in both creating and preventing burnout. So a few webinars on self-care and stress management for employees simply will not cut it.

What Causes Employee Burnout?

A number of factors contribute to employee burnout, but at its most basic burnout occurs when the burden is too great and the outlets too little. Or, as Emily and Amelia Nagoski explained in their 2019 Book, Burnout: The Secret to Unlocking the Stress Code, burnout occurs when we become stuck in between our stress response and stress resolution. Something must happen to break us out of that jail and resolve that stress response.

So what gets us stuck?

Causes of employee burnout often have little to do with the employees themselves:

  • Having too great a workload and/or too few resources to deal with it
  • High-conflict work environments/lack of community in the workplace
  • A lack of trust or recognition from supervisors
  • Ineffective or poor management
  • Unclear roles

These are issues that management is responsible for. These are not issues that employees can address or fix. And no amount of meditation or nature walks will remedy them.

Related to these contributors to burnout are factors such as:

  • lack of social support
  • lack of boundaries between work and home life, and
  • poor stress management

What Can Management Do?

Giving employees tools to manage their stress is important – I should know, since I provide those webinars. But it cannot end there. Management must demonstrate to their employees that they are supported and their well-being matters. In this day and age, if an employee doesn’t believe that to be the case, they are walking out the door.

It Starts with You

As a manager, you can model behavior to help mitigate burnout. For example, implement boundaries between work and home life for yourself and adhere to them. Don’t keep it a secret when you take a mental health day or do some type of self-care. Make sure your employees know that you do these things. This demonstrates that it is acceptable for them to do the same. Then, take it a step further and make expectations for employee availability explicit. If you don’t expect them to answer emails at 9 o’clock at night, tell them that…and make sure you’re not emailing them at 9 pm either. This creates a company culture in which caring for your well-being is not only accepted but expected.

But modeling these behaviors isn’t helpful if you aren’t creating an environment conducive to employees utilizing those behaviors as well. As a manager, you need to have open and honest conversations with your employees, even the quiet ones. You need to check in with the regularly. You should know what their workloads are like and whether they are properly resourced for them. You should how they’re feeling. And you MUST be able to offer flexibility to support them. That can mean redistributing the workload, sitting down with them to help them prioritize, reallocating resources to them, etc. It also means that you need to be aware if and when you needlessly contribute to that workload through unnecessary or drawn-out meetings, micromanaging, excessive email or phone communication, etc. And you must reel that in when it happens.

As a manager, it’s critical that you always have your finger on the pulse of your workforce so that you can see the early signs of burnout and take action to mitigate it as best as possible.

color colour fitness health

5 Tips to Help You Start Exercising

To start exercising regularly when you aren’t used to it can be a challenge. Where should I start? What should I do? What if I’m not motivated? Depending on the day of the week, there is a new headline out touting the superior benefits of one style of exercise over another. But here’s the thing, it’s not supposed to be that complicated. Very simply, our bodies are made to move. Here are a few tips to help you start exercising.

1. Start simply

Start by just trying to move more each day. Increasing your daily movement can boost your energy levels as well as your motivation and confidence. Plus, it’s good for you! This can look like choosing the stairs over the elevator or taking a short walk on your lunch break. While fitness trackers can be problematic if you live and die by them, aiming for that 10,000 steps per day, can be a simple way to make sure you’re moving more.

2. Go with what you like

What happens if you try to force yourself to do something you hate? Chances are you will find every excuse in the book not to do that thing. One of the best ways to ensure your success when you start exercising is to start with something you think or know you will enjoy. For example, if you know you like to dance, try a Zumba class or barre. If you know you hate cardio, start with strength training. If you like it, you are more likely to do it.

3. Don’t rely on motivation to start exercising

woman stretching on ground
Photo by Jonathan Borba on Pexels.com

One of the most common pitfalls I see is when folks assume that motivation is a force that just materializes out of nowhere or it doesn’t. Waiting for motivation to spontaneously strike is a recipe for failure because it just doesn’t work that way. Very often, a little bit of action must precede motivation. For example, have you ever noticed how sometimes getting yourself to the gym is the hardest part but then once you’re there and moving, you’re fine? That’s a great example of how pushing yourself through a little action (getting yourself to the gym and starting) helps create motivation to continue. Not sure if you’re up for a run? Trying lacing up those sneakers and walking for a bit. Not feeling the idea of lifting today? Try doing some stretches or yoga first.

4. Accountability

Peer pressure can be a very effective tool! Well, maybe it’s not peer pressure. But having the accountability of a gym buddy or workout partner can be very helpful when you start exercising.

5. Don’t go crazy

The quickest way to sabotage your fitness goals is to do too much too soon. This could mean setting overly ambitious goals so that you become discouraged when you can’t meet them. Or it could look like pushing too hard and getting injured. As the saying goes, Rome wasn’t built in a day and muscles aren’t either! Take your time, listen to your body, and go easy on yourself.

woman seated at computer

About Your Work From Home Space…

What does your work from home space look like? One of the most common issues that I hear from employees now working from home is that they very often feel like they’re living at work rather than working from home. This can significantly impact their stress levels in negative ways, leading to burnout and even physical ailments. Luckily, there is something you can do today to start to improve this situation.

Work Space vs Living Space

I’m sure you are familiar with the saying “your home is your castle.” Home is supposed to be your safe space, the place where you relax, recover, unwind. But when we are working in those living spaces, they lose that relaxing feel.

Ideally, you should have a workspace that is separate from your living space and the two do not cross. However, this is not possible for many of us, in which case, we need to get a little creative to separate the two.

The Bedroom is not a Work from Home Space

First and foremost, your workspace should not be your bedroom. If your home is your castle, then your bedroom is the keep – the strongest most protected part. This is your most important rest space. When you start working in your bedroom, or worse, in your bed, you stop associating that space with rest and start associating it with work and all of the stress and anxiety that may go with it. This translates into poor sleep, low energy, higher stress levels, and more. Once that association is created, it’s difficult to change it back.

Working in Your Living Space

Crossing the bedroom off your list may leave you with your kitchen, dining room, or living room as your shared work and living space. In this situation, you can set the scene for your work day versus your non-work hours in order to create some separation.

Setting Up Your Work from Home Space

When it is time for you to work, set that space up to resemble work. Set all your work materials up nearby. If you have some things from your desk in the office, like a certain mug full of pens, setting those out is helpful. Next, remove as many distractions unique to your home as you can (by turning off the TV, for example). Finally, try to create a work routine. This could mean getting up at the same time every day, actually preparing a lunch for yourself for later, or setting a schedule for checking email, etc. Taking these steps will help mimic a routine workday at the office and put you in a work mindset, making you more focused and productive.

Setting Up Your Living Space

Once your work day is up, it’s time to convert that work space back to a living space. Put away everything that you used to create your working space in the morning. As long as those items are in view, you will find it more difficult to “switch off.” Plus, if your laptop is away, it will be a lot harder to answer emails at 8 pm! If possible, replace some of those work items with “homie” items – whether they be scented candles, family pictures, etc. Creating a routine can play an important role here as well. Set a hard stop time at the end of the day and create a ritual to mark the transition from work time to home time. For example, take a walk around the block every day at the end of the day to mimic your old home commute. Taking each of these steps will help transition you back into your home mindset so you will be better able to relax, switch off, and unwind.

Many of us have found working from home far more stressful and challenging then we could have imagined. While this may be our reality for a while, there are, fortunately, little tricks we can use to help mitigate that stress.

Since work from home is our new normal, many employers have started offering wellness webinars to support their employees from home. Be sure to check out Well & Simple’s employee wellness offerings to help support your workforce!

The Case against Employee “Wellness” Challenges

Employee wellness challenges are very popular corporate programs – from walking challenges to weight loss challenges. But these challenges actually come with a number of issues which can make them more of a problem than a solution.

1. Change is temporary

One of the big drawbacks of these challenges is that they are not effective in creating any lasting changes in employee behaviors. Typically, employees will engage in a given healthy behavior for the duration of the challenge but fall off as soon as it’s over (if they make it that far). This is because the challenge prize is an extrinsic motivator rather than an intrinsic motivator. Extrinsic motivators are simply not as potent as internally-driven motivators. If one of the goals of your wellness program is to change employee behaviors in the long-term in meaningful ways that will improve their health, challenges will not achieve that.

2. Workplace wellness challenges don’t teach skills and strategies

Another reason why change does not last following these challenges is that they don’t provide employees with the skills and tools they need to implement the challenge objectives in a meaningful way. Instead, left to their own devices, employees will find a strategy that works for the time being, typically forcing the habit. Strategies are hodge-podge and not sustainable rather than accounting their day-to-day reality in the long-term. A more effective way to impact employee health is to focus on habit-building programs.

3. Challenges can be triggering and stigmatizing

For someone struggling with or in recovery from an eating disorder or disordered eating, weight loss and fitness challenges can be triggering for them. This puts their recovery in jeopardy and can result in their sliding back into disordered behaviors. These challenges are also inherently fatphobic, equating weight with health and overlooking the fact that there is more to someone’s weight than eating and exercise habits. Employees in larger bodies may feel singled out or unduly pressured in the course of these challenges. Indeed, according to Aubrey Gordon, weight-focused programs in particular may compound inequities amongst employees. If you want to foster a safe, inclusive work environment, then it is best to avoid these wellness challenges.

4. Success tactics may not be healthy

When there is the promise of a prize and the challenge is short-term, some employees may resort to tactics that are not healthful for the sake of winning. Obviously, employing unhealthy tactics undermines the intent of the challenge and can create other issues for employee health. So is it worth the risk? (The answer is “no).

So what should you offer if employee wellness programs aren’t effective?

An effective employee wellness program must take into account the unique needs of your staff. When is your most difficult season? What are their major stressors? What are their biggest health concerns (if you know of any)? It must be educational as well as practical and motivational. It should teach appropriate skills and strategies and leave employees with doable action items. There should also be some variety in the program to appeal to different learning styles: some webinars, some demonstrations, some interactive and hands-on options. Above all, your employees need to feel that it is a program that truly has their best interests at heart.

Be sure to check out Well & Simple’s comprehensive employee wellness offerings