Addressing Burnout and Stress Is Critical to Business Performance

Addressing stress and burnout is important not only for employee satisfaction, retention and acquisition, but for business performance, too.

Is it just me or are more and more articles appearing about the four-day work week? This opinion piece on CNN caught my eye just last week. Two things seem to be driving the discussion: 1) concerns about employee stress and burnout and 2) seeing it as a way to differentiate in a tight job market. The studies CNN cites suggest the four-day work week could be beneficial all around, for both companies and employees.

Why Addressing Employee Stress and Burnout Is a Company-Wide Issue

Addressing stress and burnout is not only important for employee satisfaction, retention and acquisition, but is critical to ensuring that business performance objectives are met. If your employees are stressed and burned out, they are not bringing their best selves to work every day. And they certainly aren’t in a mental place to be innovative and creative.

It doesn’t take much imagination to visualize the impact of a burned-out team. Just think of any department in your company and then ask yourself what the impact would be of the team being burned out. Across departments, you’d see a:

  • Drop in productivity.
  • Gravitation to easy, redundant work and avoidance of new, challenging projects — which will stifle innovation.
  • Lack of enthusiasm for the work and the company and a drop in motivation.
  • Breakdown in relationships between colleagues as employees become short-tempered or stop working on maintaining good working relationships.

As bad as it can be within a company, now extrapolate that to inter-company interactions. A stressed and burned-out sales person trying to sell to a stressed and burned-out prospect is a recipe for disaster. Customer service is another flash point. My eldest daughter has run a number of technical support teams and she’s dealt with both customers and service reps completely melting down with lots of crying all around. These are easy to see one-to-one examples but the issue is much bigger.

In crafting the ideal customer journey, we start with good intentions, trying to tailor the customer experience to the needs of each prospect. As pressure and stress grows within the company, the customer journey becomes corrupted in the quest for more leads, more MQLs and more SQLs. Prospects are faced with gates and annoying chatbots when they visit a website (I wrote about this last month) and a bombardment of sales calls and emails which, in turn, increases their level of stress and frustration — definitely not what you are aiming for. If everyone’s stress and burn-out level was dialed down a level or two we could rethink how we engage in a better way.

Related Article: The Cure for Burnout Is Not Self-Care

Always On, Always On Call

I’m interested in the idea of a four-day work week as a means to address employee stress and burnout having had a positive experience with a four-day week while working a summer job in college. The large textbook publisher I worked for had a four-day work week and asked when you were hired whether you wanted every Friday or every Monday off. I loved it, but have wondered since whether it would work today.

Back then — and here’s where I date myself — we didn’t have PCs or the internet and the associated distraction factors. The work day was very structured. At your desk by 8 a.m., a 20-minute break in the cafeteria at 10 a.m. (no coffee or food allowed at the desk), a one-hour lunch break at noon, another 20-minute break at 3 p.m. and then work ended at 6 p.m. It worked and it didn’t. There was a lot of focus on job productivity when people were at their desks but the breaks tended to extend beyond their allotted time because people were “exhausted” from their long work day.

Looking back, it looks quite quaint. In contrast, when I finished college my first job was for a tech company and the published working hours were 8 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. with a 30-minute lunch break. Most of us didn’t call it a day until 7 p.m. and showed up on Saturday mornings to get a few extra hours in. This was the start of a long career in companies with similar work environments. What’s interesting is that none of us ever talked about burnout. That’s because when we left the office, we left work and shut down. The introduction of email didn’t change work–life boundaries as it took time for laptops to get to everyone. Early on, laptops only went to traveling personnel.The introduction of voicemail and then mobile devices was the tipping point. It was then the boundary between work and home became blurred.

Fast forward to today. Many if not most of us are working 10 hours or more and the workday seems to have no beginning or end. My daughter, who is currently living with us, is regularly on her laptop working at 11 p.m., albeit with “Criminal Minds” on her TV in the background. Is stress and burnout caused by working too many days, or is it caused by working all days and all hours? Are we as companies and managers setting that as an expectation? And, is that what is causing employee dissatisfaction and departures?

What I do know is that for many, job responsibilities, priorities, deadlines and management styles have, by default, created a situation where employees feel forced to work long hours and feel pressured to always be on call.

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