In response to one recent survey by HR tech company Workhuman, 41 percent of respondents claimed to have burnt out in just the last few months.
While a huge number of workers are feeling burnt out, the exact reasons why so many are suffering are much less well understood. Employers often think battling burnout is just about offering more vacation time or more generous perks. However, it’s more likely that “burnout is a complex constellation of poor workplace practices and policies, antiquated institutional legacies, roles and personalities at higher risk, and system, societal issues that have been unchanged, plaguing us for too long.”
Being burnt out is complicated. And if you want to effectively address the problem, you have to take a long, hard look at the underlying issues driving it. A recent Greater Good Science Center article covering Moss’s book helpfully laid out six of the biggest problems.
1. Excessive workload
No shock here. Overwork is a huge contributor to burnout, and WHO data shows excessively long hours lead to more than half a million deaths a year. Fixing the problem is mostly in the hands of employers, according to Moss, who suggests companies “identify low-priority goals for their employees” so they can better manage their workloads, “provide more support when needs change suddenly,” and consider implementing a four-day workweek, among other measures.
2. Perceived lack of control
“Studies show that autonomy at work is important for well-being, and being micromanaged is particularly de-motivating to employees. Yet many employers fall back on watching their employees’ every move, controlling their work schedule, or punishing them for missteps,” notes Greater Good. Offering employees more choice over where, when, and how to work can be an incredibly effective way to battle burnout if you suspect a lack of autonomy is a contributing factor.
3. Lack of recognition
This isn’t just about paying people what they’re worth, though that’s essential if you want to avoid burning out your people, but also about ensuring that employees know their contributions are seen and valued. Rather than stir envy and unhealthy competition by handing out rewards to only top contributors, Moss suggests “gratitude from top leadership and peer-to-peer gratitude.”
4. Poor relationships
Knowing and liking your colleagues as whole, real people is a strong predictor of happiness at work, while a lack of social connection at work is a predictor for burnout. That’s why Moss recommends employers “give people spaces where they can connect with colleagues around non-work-related topics,” as well as “encouraging volunteerism and building more inclusive cultures.”
5. Lack of fairness
Again, it’s no shock that feeling unfairly treated really ticks people off and saps their motivation for work. Bosses will never be able to eliminate every perceived slight and grievance, but they can provide mechanisms to report and resolve these issues. Being ruthless about rooting out bias and discrimination is, of course, also essential.
6. Values mismatch
As Harvard professor Arthur Brooks has pointed out, the best job for you is the job that matches your values. The opposite is also true. The jobs that are most likely to cause burnout are the ones where we feel in conflict with our deepest commitments. Depending on the particulars of the situation, fixing this issue can involve either hiring people whose values better align with the company’s mission or having the company actually stand up for the values it says it believes in. (Or from the employee’s perspective, thinking about how to ditch your ethically dubious employer.)
Every case of burnout is unique, with its own collection of causes both personal and professional. But Moss’s list of common contributing factors is a starting point for both bosses and employees to ponder the real roots of feelings of exhaustion, so they can battle back against the current burnout epidemic.