EngagementCultureBeing honest about burnout can help us rethink resilience in the workplace

Being honest about burnout can help us rethink resilience in the workplace

Bruce Daisley posits alternatives to resilience training and offers 3 strategies to stave off burnout in the workplace.

Being honest about burnout can help us rethink resilience in the workplace

In June this year Gallup unveiled their latest treasure trove of HR data, in the form of the 2022 edition of the State of Global Workplace study. The report is always essential reading and there was an audience eagerly awaiting the impact of Covid-induced working from home on the workforce.

The headline from Gallup left readers in no doubt, declaring that: ‘Stress among the world’s workers reached an all-time high – again’.

Delving into the pages of the report is richly rewarding – if grim – reading. If we were in any doubt, Gallup’s data shows we’re in a burnout epidemic. Gallup gives five main causes of burnout:

  1. Unfair treatment at work
  2. Unmanageable workload
  3. Unclear communication
  4. Lack of manager support
  5. Unreasonable time pressure

The single cause of this burnout? Managers!

If you’re not feeling resilient enough to stave off burnout then Gallup say their evidence gives them a clear understanding of the reasons why. For the avoidance of debate Gallup say all of these causes have one thing in common – bad management.

This rings a bell to me, I’ve just spent two years writing a book on why the idea of resilience that we are peddled is a toxic myth. I found that the version of resilience we’re invited to conjure up is something deeply individual. Something that we can be trained to summon once we’ve been in schooled in the techniques. If we’re not feeling resilient then an online seminar could be what the doctor ordered. It stands to reason that if you believe resilience can be trained then a deficit of it is in someway the result of a personal shortcoming.

The two challenges of asking workers to be resilient to burnout

It’s worth reflecting on what happens in these sessions. Largely based on the research of super psychologist Martin Seligman and his proteges, resilience training often schools us that if we’re not feeling strong it might be a question of mentally reframing our challenges, or ‘hunting the good stuff’ in our unhappy lot. It’s worth considering two challenges with this approach.

The first challenge is that if we re-read the list of Gallup’s five causes of burnout then it seems disrespectful to someone suffering from an unmanageable workload, to say that actually the burnout is on them. That they’ve shown a deficiency by ending up worn down by it. There’s no other way to construe this than ‘victim blaming’. Do we tell victims of natural disasters that they need to be more resilient? Actually, we also do that too. Resilience is, and has always been, the perfect alibi for victim blaming.

In the world of HR we know this well, I chatted to social psychologist Alex Haslam who reminded me of an episode way back in 2003 when the UK’s Health and Safety Executive issued a ‘Stress Improvement Notice’ to West Dorset General Hospitals NHS Trust to resolve burnout issues there. The move was seen to demand of employers that they were expected to resolve the toxic workplace they were creating. And it worried them.

Haslam explained to me that faced with the responsibility for burnout and stress the Trust chose to reframe the issue, ‘One way they did that was rhetorically by saying “OK, we’ve had enough of talking about this bad stuff. So let’s start looking on the positive side and talking about resilience’. And so the long-storied reframe of burnout began, it wasn’t the understandable output of unsustainably toxic working environment, it was what happened when workers weren’t hardy enough.

Independent research says that resilience training doesn’t work

The second challenge of the typical way we deal with burnout, is the aforementioned work by Martin Seligman. Seligman is an icon of psychology, in many ways its worth regarding him as the Robert DeNiro of the discipline, capable of dazzling brilliance in his early career but with his share of patchy work in his later years.

Specifically, the question mark hangs over his contribution to the resilience orthodoxy that exists in western circles. Seligman’s organisation has earned multimillion-dollar commissions for his resilience training for schools. His resilience training for the US Army has, according to investigative journalist Jesse Singal led to an investment of over half a billion dollars.

What's Hot

HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for the Hybrid World

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for the Hybrid World 5 May 2022

4m

HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for...

Attracting new talent is shooting up the priority list, but also proving more difficult than ever. After the effort of finding the right person, are w...

View event
HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture in Hybrid Work Environments

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture in Hybrid Work Environments 26 May 2022

4m

HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture ...

The process of redefining a company culture is a complex one. Culture contributes directly to the day-to-day experience of employees, and many leaders...

View event
Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people

Whitepaper | Talent Development Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people

5m

Learning to win the talent war: how digital market...

This report documents the findings of a Fireside chat held by ClickZ in the first quarter of 2022. It provides expert insight on how companies can ret...

View resource
HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce 5 May 2022

5m

HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging ...

We know hybrid working is here to stay, forcing many organisations to experiment with innovative and creative strategies from 4-day working weeks to u...

View event
HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What We Need to Reward, Engage and Retain

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What We Need to Reward, Engage and Retain 3 March 2022

5m

HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What...

We know the pandemic has caused many people to revaluate their careers and relationships with work and have been seeing the impact in global trends in...

View event
Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simplify complexity?

Leadership Development Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simplify complexity?

8m Dave Ulrich

Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simpl...

HR thought leader Dave Ulrich outlines ways leaders can deal with complexity in an increasingly busy world, including how to think critically and turn...

View article
HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Organisational Decision Making

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Organisational Decision Making 5 May 2022

5m

HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Org...

Historically, HR hasn’t been as effective as it could be in sharing and communicating data with wider teams. It’s paramount that we remove the self-in...

View event
Digital transformation investment grows but critical skills gaps remain - Coursera report

Digital HR Digital transformation investment grows but critical skills gaps remain - Coursera report

8m Leah Belsky

Digital transformation investment grows but critic...

Covid-19 has accelerated the rate of digital learning on a global scale. Coursera's latest report provides an update on employee proficiency in a numb...

View article
Wellbeing in the hybrid workplace: how to successfully drive engagement

Employee Engagement Wellbeing in the hybrid workplace: how to successfully drive engagement

8m Alara Basul | Sponsored

Wellbeing in the hybrid workplace: how to successf...

Remote working has impacted the way we communicate as a workforce, but striking the right balance between creating an engaged workforce and a successf...

View article
How to create a company culture capable of empowering the modern workforce

Culture How to create a company culture capable of empowering the modern workforce

8m Alara Basul | Sponsored

How to create a company culture capable of empower...

While new working patterns that emerged from the pandemic have earned a permanent spot in the workplace, creating a purpose-driven culture based ...

View article
WATCH: Connection and collaboration in a hybrid workplace

Leadership Learnings WATCH: Connection and collaboration in a hybrid workplace

9m Amy Kirkham

WATCH: Connection and collaboration in a hybrid wo...

Alison Noon-Jones, VP of People & Culture at Leidos UK & Europe, shares how crucial employee engagement and participation is when shaping the people s...

View article
Turbulence ahead: Why it’s time to be bold in your leadership

Leadership Development Turbulence ahead: Why it’s time to be bold in your leadership

9m Terence Mauri

Turbulence ahead: Why it’s time to be bold in your...

HRD thought leader and Hack Future Lab founder Terence Mauri sets out why the biggest risk to leadership is not turbulence itself, but leading with ye...

View article

The big challenge with all of this work is that when others set out to measure the impact of it they end up saying it simply doesn’t work. Jesse Singal performed a rigorous analysis of all of the peer-reviewed studies into Seligman’s work with the US Army and pithily concluded that the Seligman intervention was ‘a mess’ and that ‘there’s zero evidence that CSF, a mandatory Army program for over a decade, does anything to help soldiers’. The co-creator of Seligman’s (PRP) school program acknowledged in her own analysis of the school scheme that ‘data show no evidence that PRP is superior to active control conditions’.

This is the double whammy of the resilience discussions that increasingly permeates every workplace. Firstly the very idea that our colleagues can’t handle unsustainable working conditions is due to their lack of resilience is victim-blaming. Secondly, the training that they are offered has been shown in independent analysis not to work anyway. We’re gaslighting our colleagues and then offering them a sugar pill.

With that in mind it’s worth returning the Gallup workforce study. The study describes the experience of those who are engaged with their jobs saying that 95% of engaged workers report being treated with respect all day at work. 87% mention that work involves “smiling and laughing a lot”.

So what can leaders do to stave off workplace burnout? Here are three clear pointers from the Gallup research.

1) Set about reducing the burden of meetings

Microsoft has used the data gleaned from Teams to estimate that the number of meetings has increased by 2.5 times in the last couple of years. When I worked in a big tech firm we performed an audit that suggested our team members were spending over twenty hours a week in meetings – I have no doubt it will have got worse in the two years since I left. At the time we set about trying to halve this burden. Reducing time spent in meetings is incredibly difficult but almost nothing has a stronger effect on employee satisfaction.

2) Think about introducing a meeting-free day

In May I wrote about the impact that meeting-free days are having on employee wellbeing. The researchers reported a 26% decline in employees reporting feeling stressed from one meeting-free day per week, rising to 43% with two.

3) Invest in better training for middle managers

Professor Sir Cary Cooper often talks about the ‘line manager lottery’. The Gallup research backs this up, that some of us win by getting a great manager and others of us end up with burnout based on the leader we’re given. The role of manager has fundamentally changed in the last few years and providing better training can help organisations create engaged teams.

Any leader questioning whether these initiatives can have an impact on their business can find final comfort in the Gallup report. The report joins the dots for us, saying that business units with engaged workforces reported 23% higher profits than those with disengaged employees. Redesigning jobs can not only beat burnout but can transform business outcomes.

 

Bruce Daisley is a workplace culture consultant and the host of Eat Sleep Work Repeat podcast. His new book, ‘Fortitude’, is about the mistakes we make when thinking about resilience.

Comments are closed.

What's Hot

HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for the Hybrid World

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for the Hybrid World 5 May 2022

4m

HRD Roundtable Report: Levelling Up Onboarding for...

Attracting new talent is shooting up the priority list, but also proving more difficult than ever. After the effort of finding the right person, are w...

View event
HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture in Hybrid Work Environments

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture in Hybrid Work Environments 26 May 2022

4m

HRD Roundtable Report: Redefining Company Culture ...

The process of redefining a company culture is a complex one. Culture contributes directly to the day-to-day experience of employees, and many leaders...

View event
Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people

Whitepaper | Talent Development Learning to win the talent war: how digital marketing can develop its people

5m

Learning to win the talent war: how digital market...

This report documents the findings of a Fireside chat held by ClickZ in the first quarter of 2022. It provides expert insight on how companies can ret...

View resource
HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging The Hybrid Workforce 5 May 2022

5m

HRD Roundtable Report: Strategies For Re-Engaging ...

We know hybrid working is here to stay, forcing many organisations to experiment with innovative and creative strategies from 4-day working weeks to u...

View event
HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What We Need to Reward, Engage and Retain

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What We Need to Reward, Engage and Retain 3 March 2022

5m

HRD Roundtable Report: Making it ‘Worth It’ – What...

We know the pandemic has caused many people to revaluate their careers and relationships with work and have been seeing the impact in global trends in...

View event
Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simplify complexity?

Leadership Development Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simplify complexity?

8m Dave Ulrich

Dave Ulrich: How can business and HR leaders simpl...

HR thought leader Dave Ulrich outlines ways leaders can deal with complexity in an increasingly busy world, including how to think critically and turn...

View article
HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Organisational Decision Making

Roundtable Report HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Organisational Decision Making 5 May 2022

5m

HRD Roundtable Report: Using HR Data to Inform Org...

Historically, HR hasn’t been as effective as it could be in sharing and communicating data with wider teams. It’s paramount that we remove the self-in...

View event
Digital transformation investment grows but critical skills gaps remain - Coursera report

Digital HR Digital transformation investment grows but critical skills gaps remain - Coursera report

8m Leah Belsky

Digital transformation investment grows but critic...

Covid-19 has accelerated the rate of digital learning on a global scale. Coursera's latest report provides an update on employee proficiency in a numb...

View article