Burnout – is it a personal problem in the worksplace?

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Can a burnout be avoided through deep breathing, and mindfulness techniques while working in a stressful workplace?

Or is this an idealistic situation that barely occurs in the real world?

Christina and Michael from the burnout journal certainly think so. In their article on hints on research that “stressirs beyound an individual’s control” contribute significantly to burnout.

Recently, there has been a trend on focusing on the most optimal ergonomics for offices in order to provide the most comfortable, healthy, and productive environments. The authors suggest that the same thought should be given  to all aspects of the workplace – full accountability of all members and processes, requiring to confront a co-member that may be rude or inconsiderate, and “rewarding deserving workers”

Within the workplace and outside of it, wellbeing design extends to holistically designing environments well beyond scopes limited to physical design.

Full reprint of the article:

“Burnout” is not only a personal problem, it’s a workplace problem

Originally published on October 20, 2017 by Christina Maslach and Michael Leiter on Quartz at Work.

As “burnout” among workers has gained attention in the popular media, a conventional wisdom has developed around avoiding it. Essentially, the advice is to “take care of yourself.” Be healthy. Be strong. Be resilient. Be smarter about time management. Don’t let the stressors get to you—fight on and overcome them. Tips to “combat burnout” in a recent New York Times article, for instance, focused on individual interventions such as deep breathing, taking breaks, taking time off to recover, and working remotely.

Although certainly everyone can benefit from a healthy lifestyle, regular sleep, and mindful practice, as decades-long burnout researchers and the co-editors of the Burnout Research e-journal, we find the underlying message conveyed by this type of advice to be disturbing, namely that burnout is only a personal problem and “you just have to tolerate stressful workplaces.”

People who experience burnout become chronically exhausted, become cynical and detached from their work, and feel increasingly ineffective on the job. This experience is not simply a sign of personal weakness. In fact, research shows stressors beyond an individual’s control—such as too many demands, unrealistic deadlines, unpredictable schedules, difficult interactions with colleagues or customers, and technology challenges—all contribute to burnout.

Highly stressful workplaces are often poorly designed, socially toxic, and exploitative environments. Why should such workplaces be given a free pass, when they are the sources of stress, while their inhabitants are being told that burnout is their own personal problem and responsibility? Instead of letting such bad job settings off the hook, we should also be focusing on how to improve the workplace environment. Burnout is a signal that things are not going well in the relationship between people and their workplaces, and as with any relationship, both sides need to be part of the solution.

Ergonomics, which examines the relationship between workers and their physical environments, offers one way to create healthier workplaces. Improved designs for seating, computer workstations, and airline cockpits are just a few examples of how an ergonomics approach can improve efficiency, comfort, and safety. We should aim to extend this design approach to the social and psychological environment at work, which we know plays a large role in burnout. Here are a couple of examples:

Members of a workgroup can take action to improve their everyday relationships with colleagues. It is not enough to simply ignore rude and inconsiderate behavior. Rather, the group should take an active role in insisting that colleagues and, yes, even managers, behave with professional consideration at work. Civility interventions such as CREW (Civility, Respect, & Engagement at Work) and SCORE (Strengthening a Culture of Respect & Engagement), have been shown to reduce socially toxic cultures, and have led to decreases in burnout and absenteeism.

The bitterness and cynicism of burnout can be linked to unfair processes in the workplace, which fail to reward deserving workers or to provide them with the same opportunities given to others. However, such processes can be changed, in ways that are more clearly fair and meaningful for all. One organization that we worked with decided to revamp a “distinguished service award” that was widely despised as unfair, and instead brought together a team of various employees to develop a better design for recognizing special achievements. Not only was this new award process accepted with relief and applause, it led to a more positive work culture of shared pride and collegiality.

The lesson to be learned here is that it is indeed possible to redesign the social job environment to better support the people who work in it, and these kinds of social ergonomic changes do not have to be huge or wildly expensive. Poor work conditions should not be considered an inevitability to be suffered in silence. Small steps of improvement can have larger ripple effects as people begin to see that positive change is possible.

Christina Maslach is a professor emerita of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley. Michael P Leiter is a professor of organisational psychology at Deakin University. They are the co-editors of the Burnout Research e-journal.

Link to the original article:  https://work.qz.com/1106869/burnout-is-not-only-a-personal-problem-its-a-workplace-problem/

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