The HR News Wire is a weekly column that explores breaking HR news and research. This week, we look at a new survey that's found that 96 percent of managers believe their teams suffer from burnout. However, employees and managers disagree on why.
Burnout is getting a lot of attention right now. As we mentioned in another post, burnout is even now recognized as a workplace hazard by the World Health Organization, which states that burnout is a syndrome that results from workplace stress.
Now, a new survey by Accountemps has found that nearly all senior managers (96 percent of those asked) claim that their workers are experiencing some type of burnout. While this figure is staggering all by itself, the real interesting thing is that - despite knowing their teams are burning out - many managers fail to understand the root cause.
"Workers and managers alike seem to agree burnout is an issue, but they don't see eye to eye on the main reason," reports the team.
"When given a list of factors that may be contributing to employee burnout, workers ranked constant interruptions first, while senior managers believed unmanageable workloads were the biggest issue for their teams."
This suggests that even though everyone knows burnout is a problem and that most people experience it, if managers cannot get to the root of the issue and change something for the better, burnout will likely continue to increase, eventually leading to problems like retention issues, poor workplace culture, less employee engagement, and other things.
Before we get into analyzing the nitty-gritty details, let's look at what the team did to come up with their results.
In order to examine how managers viewed burnout, the team asked more than 2,800 senior managers to rate the level of burnout in their teams on a sliding scale that went from one, meaning no burnout at all, to 10, meaning fully burned out.
The average score, according to the team, was a rating of 5.6, suggesting that most managers believe their teams are on the brink of major burnout, but not quite there yet.
One in 5 of these managers rated their team's burnout to be 8 or higher, which is a large figure that definitely shouldn't be ignored. We'd say that at level 8, managers should try their best to make the situation better before more negative repercussions pop up.
To balance the survey, the team also asked more than 2,800 adult workers (over the age of 18) to rate their levels of burnout, too. Surprisingly, the average level was also 5.6, suggesting that managers do accurately understand just how burned out their staff members are. 28 percent of workers also claimed that their burnout levels were at an 8.
While these numbers are far too high, the survey really hits home just how well managers can understand the signs of burnout in their staff members. So, why are these levels not going down?
This is where it gets really interesting.
Managers Fail to See the True Cause of Burnout: Interruptions
The real issue here is that workers and managers aren't on the same page with managers claiming that workload issues are the biggest driver.
It stands to reason that heavy workloads would increase burnout - and it definitely does - however, workers claim that the main source of burnout is actually interruptions.
As anyone who has ever had to get things done on a deadline can tell you, interruptions can seriously destroy productivity. This has even been brought up in other studies. For example, last year, we covered a study that found that even having a meeting on the horizon can drop your productivity levels through the floor.
With a heavy workload, interruptions can make everything harder to accomplish, making that workload even heavier. It's easy to see a vicious cycle here where employees feel like their work is never complete because, in reality, it never is. Without time to actually work, how are people supposed to get anything done?
The team didn't go into who and/or what is actually doing the interrupting, but it's pretty safe to say that it's a combination of coworkers who need things from each other and even managers adding more tasks or checking in to see where projects are.
In today's world, we all seem to have a 'get it done yesterday' type of mentality, spurred on by the ultra-connected workplace that never sleeps. While this has led to some great things, constant Slack messages, meeting requests, and emails can completely derail employees.
So, when managers say that workload is the prime source of burnout, they're half right and half wrong. Sure, workloads are tough, but workers seem fine managing them if they can actually focus.
"Employees are often OK with working hard if they know that their efforts will not go unnoticed by their employers and it helps them advance their careers," said Michael Steinitz, senior executive director of Accountemps.
"However, maintaining high productivity cannot come at the expense of staff members' well-being and engagement."
So What's the Solution?
There is no fast solution to these problems, but they do showcase how interruptions play a huge part in burnout (and, most likely, productivity). This means that managers need to find ways to allow workers to actually work and focus to get their tasks done. If workers are able to check things off of their list instead of constantly being pulled away, they will likely be able to stave off burnout.
Of course, workloads are also a huge part of this. After all, if workloads weren't so heavy, many workers would probably be fine getting interrupted more.
To that end, the team has said that managers need to understand how their employees are fairing and, if need be, put some projects on hold or outsource them to other workers (possibly ones outside of the company).
In other words, there are many ways to still get work done that do not over-encumber workers to their breaking point, though these solutions will likely change based on the organization and the work that needs done.
The key takeaway here is that both managers and workers agree that workers are about halfway to full burnout. However, the reasons why are cited differently. Managers believe that heavy workloads are to blame but workers cite constant interruptions as the number one cause.
Managers should heed this advice by making changes to how work is done. It can be as simple as allowing people interruption-free time (unless an emergency pops up), quiet hours, etc. As for workloads, the survey generally found that yes, workloads are partially to blame, but on the other hand, workers are good at their jobs if they had the time to do them.
It will be interesting to see if there are any more studies that look into the prime causes of burnout in the future. As employee engagement and workplace culture continues to dominate headlines in the business section, it stands to reason that burnout should also receive the same amount of attention.
Want to learn more? Read the full press release here.