With more than half of all employees suffering from burnout, many workers are beginning the new year with unhealthy levels of stress, anxiety and depression. Plagued with lost sleep, increased medical problems and strained relationships, productivity is suffering. In addition, organizations are experiencing record high turnover, an inability to recruit new talent and lackluster business performance.

The World Health Organization has classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon, resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by:

  • A lack of energy or exhaustion.
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, negative feelings or cynicism.
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

The organizations that thrive in 2022 will be those that make a concerted effort to break the burnout epidemic and build a long-term sustainable talent management plan.

How can talent development professionals contribute to a “stop the burnout” initiative?

First, they need to understand what it is and where it comes from. They must accept (and convince leadership) that burnout is real, and it impacts the bottom line. It’s not just an affliction suffered by unmotivated employees who have an active personal life. Your organization’s programs, policies and people create conditions that contribute to or help guard against burnout.

Next, they need to determine what directly drives burnout and how to reduce it.

Work-life Alignment and Burnout

In the post-pandemic, hybrid workplace, Great Resignation world, creating new ways to align work and life is the employer’s critical imperative. It is also the key to combating burnout.

The time when employees were left to figure out how to juggle the duel demands of work and life is over. Employers that take an active role in helping employees achieve positive work-life alignment will find the most success in retaining and engaging their workforce.

Study after study shows that employees want more flexibility, and they won’t hesitate to change jobs to achieve it. Providing workplace flexibility isn’t easy or straightforward. Each employee has their own definition of flexibility and comes to work with their unique work-life alignment needs.

Over this past year (and even the past decade), some employers have tried to meet their employees’ needs. Adopting wellness programs, creating flexible work policies or other corporate signs of goodwill are a great start. But it is not enough.

The Missing Ingredient

An employee’s manager is often the most important and under-used resource in an organization. Managers are gatekeepers — or promoters — of innovative well-being policies. In many cases, they are left to interpret a “managers discretion” clause and create or hinder an environment that signals to employees that it is safe to use these privileges.

Research by Dr. Ellen Ernst Kossek and Dr. Leslie Hammer shows that an employee’s ability to align their work and personal responsibilities hinge on the extent to which people managers demonstrate four specific behaviors. In our partnership with Kossek and Hammer, we have operationalized these behaviors into the following model:

1. Connect: Make employees feel comfortable. Talk to them about their conflicts between work and personal responsibilities.

2. Respond: Work effectively with employees to creatively solve conflicts between work and personal responsibilities.

3. Rethink: Organize work in their department or group to jointly benefit the employees and the organization.

4. Model: Demonstrate effective behaviors on how to juggle work and personal responsibilities.

Kossek and Hammer’s research also shows that managers who consistently demonstrate these behaviors positively impact employee engagement, retention and well-being.

The Problem

Your managers probably think they are being supportive. That’s what they will tell you. Yet Kossek and Hammer’s research found a 50% gap between managers’ views of their support of work-life alignment and the employees’ perception.

How do you address this perception gap with your managers?

A Management Training Solution

You don’t need a grand gesture to make a big difference. All it takes to begin the work-life alignment program is a simple training initiative that engages your frontline managers. We found that training managers on the four key behaviors through a 90-minute eLearning course resulted in a positive impact on employee engagement, retention and well-being.

Creating a cadre of skilled managers that lead their teams using these simple, yet critical, behaviors is the key to preventing burnout in your organization. Training managers to connect, respond, rethink and model will not only raise the awareness of their importance in preventing burnout but also will help them think creatively about how work-life alignment contributes to healthier organizational cultures and extraordinary business results.