There is a revolution coming from businesses that are starting to understand the importance of workplace training in well-being, psychological safety and burnout. Burnout is defined as emotional and physical exhaustion, loss of the ability to focus and a disengagement from work and/or life. Burnout in the workplace is a major threat to mental health – and governments, businesses and employees are recognizing the need to prioritize initiatives to combat it.
If organizations want to attract and retain top talent, they need to have a culture that promotes well-being and prevents burnout. No one wants to work for a company that does not look after their staff’s welfare — but since the pandemic, the cases of burnout have increased dramatically.
Burnout is one of the main threats to the economy globally. It can lead to a decrease in an employee’s productivity and performance, as well as increased absenteeism and illness. When a person is burned out, their ability to concentrate and focus is dramatically affected, along with the energy and drive needed to function effectively in their jobs.
As organizations grapple with increased turnover, today’s employees want to work for companies that prioritize employee wellness and well-being. Leading expert in the field of energy management, Tony Schwartz says we have come a long way from the days when eating stress for breakfast was considered a slogan for success, but we still have a long way to go to have healthy working cultures that don’t burn people out.
Google ran a project called Project Aristotle to identify the key components that made a successful team. Psychological safety was found to be the number one aspect that makes a team successful. In an environment with psychological safety, employees are comfortable taking risks, speaking up and sharing concerns without fear of being ridiculed or punished. Without psychological safety, teams are inhibited. Team members feel undervalued, are less likely to put extra work in and are more likely to burnout.
Learning and development (L&D) is uniquely positioned to deliver training that can target burnout and improve psychological safety, as there are now a range of tools that can be used alongside traditional training to make this easier. For example, over the last 20 years, a lot of research has gone into developing various tools to help assess and improve psychological resilience needed to be psychologically safe at work. The most well-known tool is the psychometric test, Mental Toughness Questionnaire (MTQ). The MTQ assesses various facets of either an individual’s or an organization’s psychological resilience and then suggests training based on the results. Interestingly, one of the key variables that is examined in this test is psychological safety (taking risks).
Trainers using evaluation tools like the MTQ are able to help organizations accurately assess leadership capability in being able to manage their own well-being and resiliency, as well as being able to support their people and teams to do likewise. This focused analysis identifies strengths and pinpoints gaps that need to be addressed, which can create a culture of well-being, with better individual and organizational energy and performance.
Interestingly, the MTQ assesses psychological safety through a component they call risk taking. By measuring an employee’s propensity to take risks, the MTQ can confirm how psychologically safe that person is. Modern assessment tools can assess multiple people at once, meaning teams, departments and even whole companies are able to understand their psychological safety levels. If there is a deficit, then specific training can be used to increase performance in this area.
The way we work affects our energy — and our levels of energy affect our performance, our resilience, and our likelihood of burning out. What has become apparent during the pandemic is how much the changes to our lifestyles have impacted our overall energy levels. There could be many reasons for this change in energy levels, including employees working longer days at home, taking fewer breaks, and being unable to effectively switch off from work.
This has led to a resurgence in the energy management system being used by trainers to help burned out employees. Energy management is a simple system first popularized by Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz. Training professionals using this system ask clients to improve focus by splitting their time and activities into manageable chunks. Rather than dealing with one task after another, allot a specific chunk of time for each task (no longer than 120 minutes). Follow each task with a 20-minute break, then change to a new activity. This model posits that human beings have a maximum cognitive attention span of 120 minutes — when humans concentrate for longer; they do not do it well.
A popular practice to develop better energy management is to encourage people to build regular breaks into their routines, getting employees off their phones and computers and away from their desks every 90-120 minutes – no matter how busy they are. In this rest period, they are not allowed access to digital devices. Often, clients use this time to walk, eat something nutritious or even have a short nap. The real power was not the training that was delivered but in the way it could be evidenced. Some trainers have used the MTQ to assess employees pre- and post-energy management training to demonstrate the massively positive effects upon employees. The results can also be reviewed qualitatively with the organization using systems such as an employee audit, which adds details around the specifics of the reasons for the change.
Systematic reviews and meta-analyses of all have concluded that any workplace program or training that aims to tackle burnout is going to be far more effective if it includes exercise. There have been many studies that have investigated the effects of exercise upon burnout symptoms, and all have found that exercise reduces emotional and physical exhaustion.
There is a plethora of opportunities for training professionals to upskill themselves with tools, techniques and qualifications to help their organization overcome burnout. This could include using the MTQ system to assess and diagnose or energy management and exercise programs to improve physical health. What is clear is that now is the time for training professionals to educate themselves on ways to combat burnout and improve employee well-being.