Maintenance Sign

Written by Dr. Geri Puleo and Michael Hempseed

Imagine that you owned a trucking company. Now imagine that after one year of work you were told almost 23% of your fleet broke down because they were used too much. You would probably have a serious word with your drivers about not pushing the vehicles beyond their limits.

Now replace the word “fleet” with “employees” and that is the situation we have today.  A recent Gallup study found that 23% of staff are burnt out or approaching burnout.!

Let’s change the situation a bit:  imagine that 44% of the trucks in your fleet sometimes break down – and, of course, it’s usually when you need them most.  Would you take the trucks to a reliable mechanic in order to find and fix the underlying cause?

The same Gallup study showed that 44% of workers sometimes feel burnt out.  The question is whether managers are attempting to find and fix the workplace stressors.  The sobering reality is that when the 44% of workers who sometimes feel burnt out is combined with the 23% who admit to being burnt out, that’s 2/3 of the workforce that is not performing to their highest potential.

Can you risk your company’s performance and profitability by not discovering the root cause of burnout?

While some employers believe that burnt out employees are expendable, burnout is linked to several indirect expenses.  In addition to the cost of recruitment, training and onboarding, $125-190 billion in annual healthcare spending has been linked to burnout.  These expenses are sufficiently high that make ignoring the root causes of employee burnout and not taking remedial action a risky financial proposition.

Addressing the increasing rate of workplace burnout can no longer be an option.

Employers must take urgent action to stop the alarmingly high rates of burnout. While there are many specific strategies to reduce stress for individuals, we want to focus on a global strategy that addresses the unwritten rules of your workplace culture. Employers must be taught that employees are not robots and cannot perform without time to recover.  Workers are human beings who have innate limits that, if pushed beyond what is reasonable, will render them no longer able to perform.  Managers can no longer wait until things start to go wrong to address the underlying cultural factors contributing to burnout.

One of the biggest misunderstandings that leads to a burnout culture is not differentiating between the impact of one-off sudden stress and long-term stress.  Consider the day where everything goes wrong; while it does not feel particularly good when going through it, the good news is that the amount of psychological harm is relatively minor.

However, research shows that the real problem is unmanaged chronic and ongoing stress. These small but consistently stressful events tend to wear us down over time. For example, while a rapid flood might damage a carpet, it’s the slow persistent drip that can carve out a mighty rock face over time.

In the workplace, employers often underestimate the mundane daily stresses that workers face.  It is not surprising that one of the biggest work stressors is the inbox:  many employees go home feeling overwhelmed that the emails in their inbox continue to grow exponentially – even when they on holiday.

There is a desperate need to educate employers on the role that their policies, procedures, and management styles play in the onset of employee burnout.  Rather than blaming the individual for burning out in attempts to meet unreasonable job demands, managers need to consider how they are using their employees to get the work done.  While no two organizations are identically managed, it is important to begin the process of identifying and fixing the chronic routine stressors that are wearing out workers.

People and machines can wear out.  If you’re providing routine maintenance on the vehicles in your fleet, why aren’t you routinely assessing your company culture for processes and behaviors that are wearing out and burning out your workers?



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