In the increasingly fast-paced and uber-competitive business landscape, stress and burnout are inevitable consequences for employees in organizations that have to adapt and respond to the external pressures through internal excellence.
This means that the pursuit of profit-driven excellence creates a high-pressure working environment where burnout and stress often take a toll on the employees.
Indeed, most Western firms report that nearly half of their employees mention stress and burnout to a lesser extent as the reason for low productivity as well as lack of focus and an inability to prioritize work.
Apart from this, stress and burnout are reported at all levels of the organizational hierarchy and it only “gets worse as one move up the ladder”.
This can create problems for the organizations regarding lost hours of work from stressed-out employees taking frequent leave of absence on medical grounds as well as poor decision making and an impaired ability to exercise proper judgment.
Indeed, this was borne out in the recent case of the ride-hailing app based firm, Uber, where nearly the entire board was replaced including its founder who cited burnout and stress as the reasons for their allegedly unethical conduct during cases of sexual and other forms of harassment.
While it is not the intention of the authors to justify such poor decision making and impaired sense of what is right and wrong on the basis of burnout, it is also the case that unless organizations evolve strategies to counter stress and avoid burnout, such instances of bad behavior will continue to the point of exhaustion and slow-motion collapse of the employees thereby jeopardizing the future of the organizations.
Indeed, the fact that everyone experiences stress to some extent and which if left unchecked and untreated can lead to complete burnout harming the careers and threatening the very existence of the organizations should serve as a wakeup call to all stakeholders to take this malaise seriously.
Perhaps this was the reasoning behind the recent decision of the British Government to pass legislation termed Thriving at Work that seeks to remedy the instances of mental health issues and other manifestations of stress and burnout in organizations.
This legislation addresses such problems by mandating organizations and Human Resource (HR) Managers to proactively work with the employees reporting such disorders and provide them with the necessary support and resources to address their disorders.
This can include asking them to take time off with pay, providing help to them by creating support systems that include other managers with the task of people management to work with them to spot symptoms of extreme stress and act on them to prevent complete burnout.
While this legislation is indeed a welcome piece of the action by the government, it is also the case that HR Managers must put in place measures to help employees cope with stress and burnout.
Indeed, despite legislative and regulatory mandates, surveys have found that most organizations leave it to the employees to devise coping mechanisms to deal with stress and burnout without overt support.
This cannot be the case since stress and burnout cost the organizations as much as they cost the employees in both monetary and non-monetary terms and hence, it is equally beneficial to both organizations and employees if they start taking these problems seriously.
Moreover, the fact that despite slogans of Work-Life Balance and Fun at Work programs, there is a need for fundamental change in the attitudes of the HR managers and other stakeholders where they begin to empathize with the employees rather than treating stress and burnout in a matter of fact manner.
Indeed, the point to note here is that stressed out and burned out employees’ need the “human touch” and the “humane treatment” since surveys have also found that most employees report feeling lonely at work and report indifference to their problems.
Having said that, it is also the case that despite the best efforts of some organizations to help employees “take it easy”, the fact remains that in our “over-connected world”, stress, and burnout due to working in a 24/7 environment that is technologically mediated and driven by constant disturbance also contribute to stress and burnout.
Thus, there is a need to address such problems as well by measures such as requiring no after office hours calls and emails.
Indeed, this is precisely what the French Government has done by passing a law that requires employers not to contact employees after working hours and not penalizing employees for not returning calls or responding to emails after they leave work.
More such laws and legislation, as well as voluntary measures from the employers and the HR Managers, are needed if we are to navigate the terrain of stress and burnout successfully.
Lastly, we have reached a point where the race to be productive becomes a race to keep up and avoid falling by the wayside.
Thus, unless there is a paradigm shift in the way employers and employees with the HR Managers mediating between address the problems of stress and burnout, the future world of work already threatened by automation and robots taking our jobs would become that much more attractive since robots do not burnout (except in case of electrical short circuits) and hence, it is in our collective interest to deal with stress and burnout.