A New Standard of Care for Workplace Burnout

“...more than three-quarters (76%) of U.S. employees are currently experiencing worker burnout” — Spring Health study conducted by the Harris Poll released December 14, 2020


“...more than three-quarters (76%) of U.S. employees are currently experiencing worker burnout”
Spring Health study conducted by the Harris Poll released December 14, 2020


Widespread Workplace Burnout

These survey results of widespread workplace burnout did not surprise the team at AMPLL when the news came out last year, as the team was well into the journey of social sciences research while designing the offering.

For context, the global COVID-19 pandemic brought to the general public a discussion that was already well underway among experts on a global scale. By May, 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized workplace burnout as an occupational phenomenon, directly linking burnout in its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a work hazard. The WHO classified three dimensions of burnout:

  • 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
While the WHO has yet to provide its official guidelines to address the syndrome, most experts agree that individual dimensions can be addressed.

  • To address exhaustion, focus on self-care to manage your energy.
  • To address mental distance, reach out and connect with colleagues and establish a sense of belonging.
  • To address reduced efficacy, complete a project or help someone.

While these guidelines sound somewhat simple in concept, there are steps required to activate these strategies that AMPLL aims to help us address. Moreover, there’s an interesting interplay across these dimensions. A simple example is that being exhausted from too many meetings and too much email and Slack can also reduce professional efficacy by not leaving enough time for individual work or deep thinking.

How did we get here?

Much like physical health “silent killers” like high blood pressure, we often can’t grasp the severity of future problems we’re facing with workplace burnout at individual, company, or even macroeconomic levels.

At a personal level, employees simply compensated for reduced productivity from the global pandemic by working more. Six months ago, I cited statistics from a National Bureau of Economic Research study that meetings increased by 13%, the number of participants went up by 14%, the number of emails went up by 5%, and there was an 8% durable increase in the workday.

From a tops-down perspective, corporations have conflated output with productivity. Mercer, an HR and workplace benefits consulting firm, reported that 94% of employers surveyed reported that productivity has remained the same or improved since employees began working remotely.  The key here is that workers took it as a burden on themselves to maintain output by working harder, masking declines in productivity.

And, the statistics bear this out at a macroeconomic level. The most recent report from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics that were released this month show that despite a Q4 2020 pullback, show that output was up 8.1% in Q1 2021, now only 0.6 percent below the level seen in Q4 2019.

Still, at all these levels, looming workplace burnout impacts not only our individual health as employees, but could have much broader consequences across teams, enterprises, industries, and even the overall economy.

What now?

Much like how measuring blood pressure when we visit the doctor became a standard of care, AMPLL aims to catalyze new standards of care to prevent workplace burnout.

The first two dimensions of workplace burnout - exhaustion and mental distance - were key motivators for our initial feature set. The third (professional efficacy) will be a subject of a future article!

Track

To mitigate exhaustion, AMPLL helps us track our work energy through the representation of a battery. Unlike “time trackers” which measure the time we spend in different activities, AMPLL aims to model those activities’ impact on our energy and to make us aware of our daily routines. After all, the first step to any program addressing burnout is taking an inventory of our activities and identifying which activities provide us “gains” versus those that are “drains” on us.

For a quick visual, immediately before posting this blog (Friday end-of-day), I took a screenshot of my AMPLL energy timeline, which accurately depicted my day, with no excessive meeting drain at all and successfully ending the day with 2 bars out of 6 left!

Normal day at 2 bars
However, my day Wednesday didn't start well (I redacted the name of the early meeting in my screenshot), and I had run my battery to 2 bars by 2pm, calling for a "booster" before continuing to complete my tasks for the day.

Two bars by 2pm redacted

AMPLL suggested a few different actions, and I took AMPLL up on two of them, which were to both get outside for fresh air, and to “choose my own adventure” (the guilty pleasure of getting an ice cream!)

Gain strategies

Share

In addition, significant research and personal stories find that the ability to talk openly about our energy in high-trust teams improves not only our feelings but connectedness to our work.

AMPLL aims to leverage this research to help us adopt a vernacular for sharing our energy with our “battery,” “gains,” “drains,” and “boosters.” The intention is to be a useful tool to express and share with our teammates and provide transparency.  Our teammates can acknowledge both our drains by saying “I see you” and to acknowledge our gains with kudos to reinforce and support healthy (and sometimes even not so healthy!) behaviors.

Here’s an example of how I exercised the practice on Wednesday of sharing openly (both the good and bad) via Slack to be transparent about my energy and how a couple members of my team made me feel “seen.”

Slack sharing at 2 bars

While not every team yet has this attained this level of transparency, AMPLL aims to help catalyze this type of sharing to improve employee connectedness.

Act

Of course, tracking and sharing can lay the groundwork for battling our workplace burnout, but the real benefits come from establishing our own agency in managing our exhaustion and engaging with our colleagues.

As such, through data-driven recommendations, AMPLL aims to “nudge” us to:

  • reinforce the parts of our work and life that boost our batteries
  • be aware of our exposure to elements of our work and life that cause drains
  • allocate the time and space for recharging our batteries
  • seek out connections
The key here is that even if workplace burnout doesn’t affect you, it likely affects 3 out of every 4 of your teammates. Establishing a new standard of care to track workplace burnout is in order.

Do you agree?

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