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Beth Carter Headshot

Workforce Burnout: A Corporate and Health Crisis

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American businesses are faced with a significant problem that is only getting worse -- workforce burnout. Longer hours, low pay, and uncertainty about the future have drained the joy of a job from those lucky to have one. In addition, managers are ill-equipped to deal with their employees on many levels so action needs to be taken immediately. Economic data points to a rise in productivity but the advance comes from technology and not a workforce that has been re-energized.

In fact, several recent studies indicate that only about a third of U.S. employees are truly engaged with their work. This minority may be high achievers or high potentials (HiPos) or just people who are just as passionate about their work with no desires to move up the corporate ladder. The challenge for business leaders is to determine what sets them apart from their co-workers and what can companies do to make more employees like them. What tools could they provide their managers and senior leaders to motivate and coach their employees that does not require overtime and "over-thought"? What motivators could be instituted that may not cost a dime but bring enrichment and enlightenment to those that are feeling burnt out, underappreciated, or just plain bored?

The corporate mission statement which describes the organization's values could be a good foundation and many post these throughout their buildings. However, no one reflects and more importantly, acts on them. So what else can companies do? Based on my years as an executive, business, and career coach, I can offer these suggestions:

  • Figure out what your employee's gold star is: Remember when you were a child and you received a gold star? How did that make you feel? Managers need to determine what an employee values and motivates them. It could be spending more time with their supervisor learning soft skills or being given a challenging project or just having lunch offsite to talk. One client of mine loved mashed potatoes so she was given them when she completed a difficult assignment.
  • Offer creative outlets: We tend to view things the same way even when faced with different problems. The issue with that is that only one side of our brain is being used so we tend to be stagnant in our decision making process. Companies should encourage employees to try non-traditional methods to develop new ideas or solutions. As an example, I conduct a workshop where participants discuss with their partner an 'ah ha!' moment in their life. Afterwards they are given the time to reflect on what they shared and then color an image with crayons of that moment. The premise of this exercise is to ascertain what they learned and appreciated from that experience, capture it in crayons, and then apply it to a new circumstance.
  • 7 minutes of silence: I met a man at the beach early one summer morning who told me he needed seven minutes of silence a day. I thought that was very smart and was intrigued to know how companies could provide those moments of solitude for their employees. One idea I had is that a gong would go off and all activity would stop. Seven minutes later, after the employees had time to meditate or reflect or even breathe properly, the gong would go off again and they would resume their work. As I started to inquire of my clients what they do along those lines, most did nothing and one company had a quiet room. Several years later faced with a major downsizing, that one company turned their quiet room into a file room. What is more important -- paper or people? More forward-thinking companies are starting to offer tai chi, yoga, and chair meditation as ways to combat stress but they are in the minority.
  • Tea time: One of the Big Four public accounting firms in their London office serve tea at 4 p.m. every day. Although that is common for that culture, it also says a lot about how they respect traditions and recognize that employees need a break.

Although corporations are focused on their bottom line, they need to be more focused on their ROI. Their greatest investment is their human capital and once senior management recognizes the need to reduce employee stress and truly recognize the contributions of their greatest assets then companies will really succeed. One of the big challenges of 2013 is retention of employees so it is imperative that companies respect and treasure their employees and provide them with all the resources they need. By cleaning out their mental closets and eliminating old baggage and concepts, companies will have more room for new ideas to help their employees be happy, passionate, and self fulfilled.