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How to make the workplace less stressful and more engaging

Editorial Team
28/02/2020 8:37 AM

We all know that
excessive stress is a health hazard. The effects of employee burnout in the
workplace have been seen to affect business performance. Workplace stress has
been seen to make people nearly three times as likely to leave their jobs,
temporarily impairs strategic thinking and dulls creative thinking. Research
has therefore shown that burnout is a threat to an organisations bottom line.
In the US alone the cost of burnout was more than $300 billion a year in
absenteeism, turnover, and diminished productivity, medical, legal, and
insurance costs. Burnout in the workplace usually creeps in subtly, over time,
impacting workers in a way that they almost do not notice.

According to the World
Health Organisation, burnout is defined as “… a syndrome conceptualized as
resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings
    of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased
    mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related
    to one's job;
  • reduced
    professional efficacy.”

Causes of Workplace Burnout

There are many things
that can lead to job burnout, and it differs for every person. But there are
common factors that have been identified as reasons behind burnout and
stressors at your workplace. Areas of Worklife model (drawn from research by
Christina Maslach and Michael P. Leiter of the University of California at
Berkeley and Acadia University, respectively) identifies six areas where one could
experience imbalances that lead to burnout:

  1. Workload- When you have a
    workload that matches your capacity, you can effectively get your work done,
    have opportunities for rest and recovery, and find time for professional growth
    and development. When you chronically feel overloaded, these opportunities to
    restore balance don’t exist.
  2. Perceived
    lack of control-
    feeling like you lack autonomy,
    access to resources, and a say in decisions that impact your professional life
    can take a toll on your well-being. If you find yourself feeling out of
    control, step back and ask yourself, “What exactly is causing me to feel this
    way?” For instance, does your boss contact you at all hours of the day and
    night, and make you feel like you need to always be on call? Are the priorities
    within your workplace constantly shifting so you can never get ahead? Or do you
    simply not have enough predictability in terms of your physical or people
    resources to effectively perform your job?

  • Reward- If
    the extrinsic and intrinsic rewards for your job don’t match the amount of
    effort and time you put into them, then you’re likely to feel like the
    investment is not worth the payoff.

  • Community-Who do you work with
    or around? How supportive and trusting are those relationships? In many cases,
    you can’t choose your colleagues and clients, but you can improve the dynamic.
    It could be as simple as taking the time to ask others how their day is going —
    and really listening. Or sending an email to someone to let them know you
    appreciated their presentation. Or choosing to communicate something difficult
    in a respectful, nonjudgmental way. Burnout can be contagious, so to elevate
    your individual engagement, you must shift the morale of the group. If you’ve
    found that once you’ve done all you can, others can’t improve or don’t want
    improved relationships, then you may want to consider a job change.

  • Fairness-Think about whether
    you believe that you receive fair and equitable treatment. For example, do you
    get acknowledged for your contributions or do other individuals get praised and
    your work goes unnoticed? Does someone else get regular deadline extensions or
    access to additional resources when you don’t?

  • Values
    you highly value something that your company does not, your motivation to work
    hard and persevere can significantly drop. Ideals and motivations tend to be
    deeply ingrained in individuals and organizations. When you’re assessing this
    element of burnout, you need to think carefully about how important it is to
    you to match your values with those of the organization.

Workplace Burnout Solutions

In a recent study,
researchers found that while there is an expectation that wellness programs
will improve issues of absenteeism and employee healthcare, they often do not.
Instead, employers need to shift to organization-level approaches for reducing
stress at work, ones that foster employee well-being while simultaneously
improving business performance. According to Natalia Peart, a clinical psychologist
and Fortune 1000 executive leadership consultant, burnout prevention requires
reducing workplace stress while also improving employee engagement. She
recommends the following in dealing with issues of burnout in the workplace:

  1. Create a Work Environment
    That Decreases Stress-
    employees are ar4e put in a high-stress situation their ability to think,
    strategize and innovate decreases. Organizations need to build a secure work
    environment and incorporate stress reduction habits into your team’s daily

  • Increase psychological
     When an organization lacks psychological
    safety it is likely to cause stress for employees as they are not free to share
    their opinions and ideas. In her book, The Fearless Organization, Amy Edmondson describes three steps you
    can take to build psychological safety. First, make your expectations obvious
    by giving your employees clear goals. Second, make sure everyone feels like
    their voices are heard, and that everyone knows that you want their voices to be
    heard. You can do this by inviting people to speak up in meetings and
    conducting brainstorming sessions more than you impose top-down decisions.
    Third, develop a work environment that is both challenging and unthreatening.
    Let people know it is okay to fail. Recognize team members who think outside
    the box, and ask your employees for feedback regularly to show you’re all in it

  • Build regular break
    times into the workday
    - The
    human brain can focus for around 90-120 minutes before it needs to rest. It’s
    important to encourage your employees to take occasional breaks to allow them
    to mentally reboot.

  •  Encourage
    the use of private workspaces when team members need to focus-
    Open offices
    are prone to distractions, increasing stress and decreasing productivity.
    Encourage employees to find private spaces when they need to focus and get work
    done without distractions. They can use a meeting room if available and put a
    ‘do not disturb’ sign.

  • Look into flexible
    work policies
    - If
    you want a highly adaptive team, then create an adaptable work environment.
    Give your employees flexibility by allowing them to work staggered hours,
    taking into account their varying needs. This approach will help employees
    maintain a work-life balance.

  • Build Employee Engagement- Decades
    of data have confirmed that higher employee engagement, or the strength of the
    mental and emotional connection an employee feels toward their workplace, has
    many positive benefits — including reduced stress, improved health and job
    satisfaction, as well as increased productivity, job retention, and

  • Be Transparent- If your team members
    are confused about how their work connects to and serves both the short- and
    long-term company goals, they will naturally become more stressed and less
    productive — especially in times of uncertainty. Part of your job is to help
    them see the big picture or the role they play in helping the company achieve
    its larger goals.

  • Make sure people are
    in the right roles
    your team members loathe doing their jobs, then they are naturally going to be
    less engaged. To ensure that their talents and strengths are aligned with the
    expectations and responsibilities of their roles.

  • Give as much autonomy
    as you can-
    possible, give your team control over how they manage their projects. Employees
    are 43% less likely to experience high levels of burnout when they have a
    choice in deciding what tasks to do when to do them, and how much time to spend
    on each.

  1. Demonstrate
    a commitment to your employee’s growth and progression
    people the chance to move around, or move on, if it’s the right next step for
    their careers. Your commitment to their growth will deepen the sense of trust
    between you and them.

Burnout may originate
within the workplace, affecting productivity and creating a hostile work
environment- its effects go beyond the walls of the workplace. Research has
shown that burnout goes as far as affecting an employee’s home life. To battle
this growing epidemic and create healthier work environments, leaders need to
commit to changing what “workplace wellness” looks like.

Sayenda-Havire is a consultant at Industrial Psychology Consultants (Pvt) Ltd a
management and human resources consulting firm. Phone +263 4
481946-48/481950/2900276/2900966 or email: tatenda@ipcconsultants.com or visit
our website at www.ipcconsultants.com

Editorial Team

This article was written by one of the consultants at IPC

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