The global work culture’s language reflects the pervasive acceleration, turbulence, sickness and burnout in today’s job environments: deadlines instead of lifelines; sick days instead of mental health days; rise and grind instead of rise and shine; work load instead of work schedule; side hustle (“hustle” is defined as “force someone to move hurriedly”) instead of part-time work and job burnout instead of job engagement.
Skye Learning’s recent Work Confidence Survey of 1,016 American workers found that the majority of the workforce has job burnout, widespread reliance on side jobs and declining confidence in their job security. Jefferson Flanders, CEO of MindEdge, Skye Learning’s parent company, summarized the key findings of the study:
- 38% of American workers cite a lack of time for their personal lives
- 40% say they work between eight and 12 hours a day
- 23% report a negative workplace culture
- 26% lack an opportunity for advancement
- 1/3 have a side hustle
- 29% have thought about joining the gig economy
- 82% reveal they are confident of holding onto their current jobs, a drop in confidence from 93% in 2018
- 21% cite unclear job expectations
- 14% report bad relationships with the boss
These findings draw a picture of the pessimistic psychological state of the national workplace. Flanders concluded, “Taken together, these findings illustrate the need for workers to upgrade their skills to future-proof their careers and find jobs that are personally and professionally rewarding.”
But the bigger question is why does productivity come at the expense of health and well-being? They’re not mutually exclusive, and there’s no reason today’s work world can’t have both. Still statistics show a rise in employees who are reluctant to take off days when they’re sick for fear of reprisal from management. With studies–such as a Gallup poll showing a staggering 70% of American workers hate their jobs–continuing to issue this sort of negative data, why aren’t conditions changing for the better?
It’s clear that American workers are constantly becoming more dissatisfied with the state of their work environments and unwilling to settle for jobs that don’t consider mental health wellness, security, compassion plus stress and burnout prevention. Not only will this discontent not go away, it’s only going to grow until more is done to humanize organizations.
What Leaders Can Do
If you’re a leader of an organization, it’s in your company’s best interest to address worker complaints. If allowed to continue, the toxicity and dissatisfaction will hurt the company’s bottom line. Workplace performance will drop, and the organization’s integrity will be compromised. Minimizing, covering up or turning your head the other way, in effect, creates a toxic culture for all employees. Eventually, the company will become a revolving door for workers, and it will be more difficult to attract and retain talented employees who can always find a mentally healthier and more attractive work environment. Workers fare well when management communicates praise and encouragement, fosters clarity about workplace expectations and provides tools an employee needs along with the opportunity to feel challenged.
Tony Schwartz—whose organization, The Energy Project, has studied the invisible phenomena that stand in the way of organizational transformation and sustainable high workplace performance—laid out the dangerous consequences that professional denial can have on the workforce: “Burnout will only get worse so long as organizations fail to challenge the ‘more, bigger, faster is better’ mindset. This must begin with senior leaders who have the courage to become ‘Chief Energy Officers,’ and to serve as role models of and advocates for a more balanced relationship between spending and renewing energy. The reward, we’ve seen consistently, is not just better health and well-being, but also more sustainable high performance.”
What Workers Can Do
If you’re a high-pressured worker most of the time, you’re an unproductive worker much of the time. It doesn’t benefit either you or the company. So what do you do? You can’t fire your boss. You can’t take over the company and restructure it, but you can take a number of other actions to take care of yourself.
- The first step is to arm yourself with consistent self-care. Make sure you realize you’ve hit your breaking point long before stress-warning signs set in. Instead of pushing past them, cushion your workday to soften stress blows. Avoid putting yourself under unrealistic deadlines. Replace “deadlines” with “lifelines.” Take “health days” in addition to “sick days.” Spread job tasks over reasonable time frames. Build time cushions between meetings. Try leaving for work 10 or 15 minutes earlier so you won’t start your day in a hurry. Ease into your workday instead of catapulting into it. Unplug at the end of the day and set boundaries to protect your personal and private time.
- Don’t compromise your physical or mental health for your job. It doesn’t work for you or your employer. Instead of waiting for the company to decide what’s best for you, be assertive. No matter how dedicated you are, evaluate your job and overall life satisfaction to decide what’s reasonable for you. Decide how far you’re willing to go to meet company demands. Be prepared to put your foot down when you believe your employer oversteps those bounds. There are many occasions on the job when you have a choice to stay late or work weekends. You might be reluctant to say no, but drawing the line without guilt when overloaded is a healthy thing to do for yourself.
- Pinpoint your discontent. Exactly what is it about your job that makes you dissatisfied? Is it the boss from hell? Boredom with tedious work? Not enough money? Long hours? Heavy workload? Unreasonable company expectations? Performance pressures? Once you can isolate exactly what the factors are, then decide if you can correct them.
- If your concerns are intolerable and unfixable, enlist your employer as a resource if possible. When you meet, use your concerns as a talking point without complaining. Make sure your boss understands your point of view, the importance of your personal life and your expectations concerning job demands. Ask if there’s another way to divide up work tasks. When deadlines are too tight, negotiate them. Deadlines can almost always be modified. Develop a plan explaining the need for an extension and suggest a revised time frame. Align your goals with those of the company and work with management to prioritize projects. Ask about company expectations and find out exactly what performance goals you must meet to receive an excellent review. Advocate for your needs in order to blunt turbulence, enhance job security and performance and prevent stress and burnout.
- Everybody has a breaking point. But no one can tell you to quit your job without knowing the intimate details of your work and personal life. That’s your call. But if your position is all you can find, even if you’re not thrilled with it, you don’t want to trade one problem for another by being unemployed. And if your job is tolerable and pays the bills, it’s important to weigh the financial consequences in light of your job’s negative aspects, plus the other factors in your life such as the people who are dependent on you, amount of debt, and so on. If you’re debating whether to quit or stay put, make sure your emotions don’t outrun a rational decision. Take time to think things through carefully.
- Practice mindfulness. Find one aspect of your job that is enjoyable or meaningful while you wait it out. It could be a coworker you enjoy talking with, one hour during the day you look forward to or a particular task you enjoy on a regular basis. If you love the flowers on the way into the building or the music that plays during the day, you can focus on that, and it changes how you feel inside. It won’t fix the problem, but it can get you through until you make the decision about whether to stay or leave.
- If you’ve tried everything to sustain your current position and things are going nowhere, it might be time to move on. This is especially true if your misery starts to manifest physically. Watch for symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety or depression, panic attacks or gastrointestinal problems. If you’ve tried all other actions and come up empty-handed, you’ve probably figured out your strategy by now. The good news is that more companies are starting to realize that job stress and burnout is a major health and safety issue and that it is to their advantage to have healthy employees, especially since this year the World Health Organization declared job burnout as a bonafide medical diagnosis. Happy employees are productive employees, and major corporations are starting to develop unique ways to support employees and humanize work environments.