Designing an Effective Workplace Burnout Response Program
By Duncan So, Founder & Executive Director at The Burnout Clinic
If you’re a People or HR professional, the idea of burnout has most likely already landed on your desk. If it hasn’t already become a priority, it’s something that will hit hard and hit fast.
As our culture of technology and constant hustle emerged over the last two decades, we’ve started to experience burnout as a phenomenon in the workplace.
More recently in 2019, the World Health Organization classified Burnout as a syndrome 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; and
reduced professional efficacy.
Increased workloads to keep up with customer demand and marketplace hyper-competitiveness. Technology that enabled instant global communication.
As a result, many of us are always on and are on constant stand-by. Habitually solving problem after problem, and slowly suppressing our emotions in the name of productivity. The nature to constantly keep up impacted the workplace, even among our best intentions to create healthy workplace environments.
In response, workplaces with a strong cultural focus on being People-first began putting in preventative workplace measures to avoid burnout:
EAP programs that included mental health support
Enterprise Resource Groups, Wellness Portals
Mindfulness, Resilience and Mental Fitness Training
Manager Sensitivity and Psychological Safety Training
Mental Health First Aid training
Mental Health / Wellness Awareness Campaigns
Subsidized Wellness Programs: Yoga, Meditation, Workouts, Nutrition, Financial
Employee experience events
Talks and Lunch and Learns
Many of these important wellness activities, both on-site and virtual wellness, are available by the amazing people at FitPros.com who have been on the forefront of supporting corporate wellness.
Then the global pandemic hit us in 2020.
In a flurry of crisis management, all non-essential workers were mandated to work from home to prevent the spread, schools shut down, main street businesses closed and social civic unrest soared to unprecedented levels.
Suddenly, the increased level of stress and anxiety, job insecurity and an uncertain future placed mental and emotional health as a priority in the workplace.
In 2021, an article by Harvard Business Review titled, “Beyond Burnout” to showcase the impact of burnout, showed a 85% decline in general wellbeing, 50% of it was around mental health from increased work demands, increased physical needs and isolation. What you will find in many studies and reports is a consistent workplace view showing burnout hovering anywhere from 60%-75%.
At The Burnout Clinic, we support workplace wellbeing programs with burnout intervention and recovery support stigma-free for employees who fall into being in crisis and injury along the mental health continuum from burnout.
What we saw since the pandemic was a fundamental shift of mental and emotional wellbeing, both in the workplace and at home. What used to be a looming burnout crisis has now been accelerated from the pandemic.
With Zoom fatigue, blurred work-life hours, and constant care-giving, many of us have experienced worsened mental health. With no end in sight, burnout became one of the most talked about mental health challenges for 2021.
In response to the mental and emotional toll of the pandemic, workplaces hustled to put many of these programs in place:
Expanded EAPs, Personal/Wellness Spending Accounts
Enterprise Virtual Therapy Platforms
Mental Health Days and increased PTO
Updated Wellness Policies: company wide vacations, paid vacations, no meeting Fridays
Wellbeing Surveys and Pulses
Increased Mental Health Check Ins
Mental Health Lunch n’ Learns and AMAs
When it comes to addressing workplace mental health, not all workplaces share the same level of progress. Some are starting their mental health journeys, some have integrated corporate wellbeing programs while some comprehensively work toward addressing the full mental health spectrum.
What makes workplace burnout unique is it has two components:
A systemic and cultural nature
A highly individual nature
The common workplace narrative today around overcoming workplace burnout is to address the systemic components, categorized by Gallup with these main causes:
Unfair Treatment at Work
Lack of Role Clarity
Lack of communication and support from management
Unreasonable time pressure
Where workplace burnout programs fall short for many organizations is the frustration to adequately address both components. As a result workplaces either unintentionally continue to stigmatize mental health and put the responsibility on the employee to seek help, or put in place preventative programs that attempt to address the systemic root causes and still wonder why employees continue to struggle and suffer.
The biggest gaps we found when speaking with HR and wellbeing leaders were not adequately balancing effective intervention and recovery support in their employee health and wellness programs. For those who did include it, have had challenges providing sufficient awareness and education to help employees get support. As a result, it’s not uncommon to see an EAP and therapy usage as low as 8-10%.
The common learning lesson with workplace mental health amongst companies for 2021 is recognizing that prevention and self-care is not enough.
The pandemic has been an eye opener for many HR leaders, and today’s challenge is finding the optimal balance of prevention and intervention that will best fit organization needs and budgets.
So what is burnout intervention and recovery?
When you’re experiencing burnout, these are the common indicators: fatigue, exhaustion, high anxiety, panic, cynicism, creative blocks, brain fog, decision making paralysis, sadness, and feeling a paralyzing burden of responsibilities.
The most difficult challenge when dealing with burnout is it puts you in a continuously mentally and emotionally drained state. That’s why willpower based approaches and resilience for burnout recovery become difficult and ineffective.
At The Burnout Clinic, we define burnout as when you expend more energy than you can recover, as a habit.
Mental and emotional self-regulation is impaired because unconscious behaviours, deep rooted beliefs and suppressed emotions are reducing the capacity to function optimally. Unless the underlying conditions are resolved, symptoms of burnout begin to relapse quicker and more painfully.
A good intervention strategy ensures that for those who are struggling with moderate to severe burnout can seek professional help that will stop the unconscious processes and emotions that continue to habitually drain us.
It’s a full stop mechanism that prevents employees from getting to a stage of crisis and contain workplace burnout.
At the Burnout Clinic, we use clinical NLP and Mental Emotional ReleaseⓇ in a two-day program to release the driving beliefs, suppressed emotions and triggers and inner conflicts at the root cause of burnout. Combined with premium vacations, we create a stigma-free experience where our clients return to work free of symptoms, productive and renewed.
Once the root causes are addressed, a good burnout recovery program helps to prevent burnout from reoccurring. This is where prevention methods and healthy mental and emotional habits can be beneficial to the recovery process.
Aligning personal values, consciously choosing how you use your energy and being in control of your emotional states, effectively setting boundaries and adopting a healthy work life philosophy of wellbeing are all good examples of exercises on the road to recovery.
Our approach for systemic and cultural change is then empowering those who have overcome burnout as champions for wellbeing for their respective organizations. Rallying allyship and even using it as a basis to establish mental health and wellbeing ERGs deepens the desire and influence for change. This ultimately helps to encourage those who need support, and also lead by example with the embodied behaviours and healthy beliefs that shifts the changes of a culture of burnout to one of wellbeing.
With a company-wide recovery process, cultural shifts towards wellbeing become a long lasting process while simultaneously amplifying the benefits of preventative corporate wellness programs.
Are you responsible for corporate wellness? Here is a good place to start with a burnout response program.
Getting a good handle on workplace burnout is a continuous journey. It’s about finding an effective blend of organization wide efforts and personalized approaches to concurrently move the needle of wellbeing on your workplace culture and also ensure no one is left behind.
Remember, for the benefit of the entire work ecosystem, an employee exiting your workplace because of burnout will enter another one mentally and emotionally injured. Likewise, one entering yours might be suffering the same consequences.
The initial step is to get a wellbeing baseline for your organization that can be accomplished with:
Surveys and Pulses / Snapshot and Trends
Performance / Stay and Exit Interviews
Anecdotal / Focus Groups
Workplace Wellbeing SaaS solutions
Getting an accurate view of your organization’s wellbeing may not be a comfortable exercise. Mental health stigma can be challenging, and it’s not uncommon to pretend that mental health issues don’t exist and can be treated with preventative care alone.
After you identify where your employees stand from the lens of a form of a mental health continuum, you’ll be able to answer this question with certainty.
Is your workplace a zombie farm? (unintentionally of course.)
With acceptance, courage, transparency and a culture of continual improvement, you can begin to set realistic and achievable targets to stop workplace burnout and improve the wellbeing of your employees with structure and year-after-year predictability.
By taking a data informed approach to manage your wellbeing portfolio and programs, it enables you to use your findings to have important conversations and integrate wellbeing priorities across your HR teams and the entire organization.
Getting the optimal Prevention and Intervention-Recovery Mix, unique to your organization will:
Significantly decrease burnout-related employee turnover and flight risk
Reduce disengagement, loss in performance, sick days and cost of preventable mistakes
Increased engagement, tenure, talent attractiveness, performance: achieving objectives, portraying strong values and culture
Improve your return on investment on your people
Talk to us about how FitPros and the Burnout Clinic can help you optimally implement a comprehensive workplace burnout response program and expand your overall corporate wellness programming.
If you’re looking for a simple employee health and wellness initiative for your next mental health month, consider partnering with us for a 30 Day Burnout Recovery Challenge!
A portion of the proceeds will be donated to the AAPI Community Fund.
For pricing for this wellness challenge, please contact your Account Manager or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Duncan So, Founder & Executive Director at The Burnout Clinic. Duncan has been a child of corporate burnout that has led him professionally into the field of human flourishing for over a decade working on systemic social change projects. He’s a social entrepreneur and change agent, on a mission to create more passionate world-building systems and programs for companies and communities on the path of making social good.
Board Certified with the Association of Integrative Psychology. A Master Practitioner in Mental Emotional Release, NLP and Hypnosis.
At the Burnout Clinic, we help HR Leaders develop and integrate burnout recovery programs within their organization. Our flagship 2-day burnout retreats stop the cycle of high anxiety, fatigue, creative slumps, and burnout, and rapidly returns leaders back happy, productive and creatively engaged at work.