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Burnout is not your staff’s fault, it’s your company’s fault

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Employee dissatisfaction is on the rise, resulting in burn-out from a variety of factors. These could be amenities, company focus, or management.

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Have you ever worked at a company only to eventually get completely burned-out? Well, you’re not alone. In fact, the World Health Organization (WHO) has seen so much “burn-out” that they decided the term is actually one that is health-related; more specifically, a disease.

The WHO released this information in conjunction with the International Classification of Diseases (ICD), but a day after the ICD came out, WHO corrected itself, saying it’s actually not a disease, but an occupational phenomenon.

This topic does bring up a good point though – who’s to blame when burn-out occurs – the company or the employee?

There are plenty of people out there who have started a job, one that was exciting and oriented with their goals, only to be completely fed up with the job 6 months later. For some, it may take longer, and for others, it may take less time, but regardless, if you’re truly burned-out, the problem may not be your fault. Actually, it’s quite the opposite.

When Stanford researchers looked into how stress in the workplace can raise health costs and even mortality in the US, they found it led to more spending (almost $190 Billion) and nearly 120,000 deaths each year. Worldwide, over 600 million people suffer from depression and anxiety, which can be a direct result of an inhospitable work environment or a job that’s simply dissatisfying or mundane. Of course there are other reasons for anxiety and depression, but feeling undervalued or unsupported on a job can have a huge impact.

Now here’s where it gets interesting. When the WHO made the mistake of calling the term “Burned-Out” a medical disease (which we now know is not the fact) it got a lot of the community thinking, including myself and Jennifer Moss of the Harvard Business Review. I asked myself who is really to blame for the high burn-out rates we’re seeing? Is anyone to blame?

Having been a victim of this “disease” (Just kidding! Remember, it’s not a disease guys), I know first-hand how hard it can be when the feelings of wanting to give up come a’knockin’. I’ve worked at multiple startups, each of them with their own initial allure and charm. Sometimes, that’s all there is and you don’t realize it until you aren’t happy in your role, which is exactly what happened to me.

You see, my first startup right out of college was super fun. Not only did they care for my needs as a person, but they also nurtured my abilities and eagerness to grow. They were your typical startup with Ping-Pong tables, holiday parties, monthly contests, and so much more. Sounds like a standard startup, right? Maybe, maybe not.

When it finally came time to leave the company for another role, (something they absolutely supported as it pertained to my growth), I quickly realized that not all companies are created equal. The next job I took turned out to actually be a 10-month series of ups and downs. Not only was the job totally different from my last one, but the company itself was highly disheveled and aimless.

Not only was it out of sorts, but the company had zero warm and fuzzy extras I had been so accustomed to. To start, there was absolutely no company culture – something I thrive on. There were no amenities like a fancy pool table or swings, which was totally fine, but alongside this and many other factors, I quickly learned how ill prepared the owner was to make the office a nice place their employees were excited to work.

The management was awful, and the owner was even worse, turning down ideas only to, weeks later, proclaim them as his own. The environment was hostile and there was no time to get to know my co-workers. But in the end, the nail in the coffin was that there was no direction at all – from the owner, management, or co-workers.

When I finally realized that I was burned-out and that my needs weren’t being met, I took an introspective look at myself and asked, “what’s wrong with me?” and after thinking long and hard, I had a moment of clarity. This wasn’t 100% my fault. In fact, it was the fault of the company I worked for.

Now, it may sound like I’m complaining (and to a degree, I am), but my point really is that if you’ve burned-out on a job, and your needs aren’t being met, you’re definitely not alone.

To further illustrate my point, I’d like to bring up Fredrick Herzberg’s dual-factor, motivation-hygiene theory. This theory primarily focuses on motivation and hygiene-related needs in the workplace and how they relate to job satisfaction. Herzberg found that satisfaction and dissatisfaction are in no way tied together and, in fact, are completely independent of one another. This means that it’s entirely possible to be satisfied and dissatisfied in the same job, at the same time – something leadership and management are not always prepared to understand or address.

Moss explains the difference between hygiene and motivational needs. She describes hygiene-related needs as things like “salary; work conditions; company policy and administration; supervision; working relationships; status and security.” On the other hand, she defines motivational factors as pertaining to “challenging work; recognition for one’s achievements; responsibility; the opportunity to do something meaningful; involvement in decision making; and a sense of importance to the organization.”

She explains that much of the time, employees don’t even recognize when the organization they work for has good hygiene, like Apple who has an excellent company culture and freebies for days (I know this from my own personal experience working there). However, when a company has bad hygiene, like what I described earlier, employees typically notice pretty immediately. Frivolous as it may seem, as humans, we’re creatures of comfort. If we’ve been comfortable for a certain period of time, and something related to that comfort is suddenly taken away, that can have a major affect on the employees’ happiness and willingness to push forward. Likewise, feeling unappreciated and underutilized can have the same effect.

As a matter of fact, burn-out can be directly correlated to situations when pre-supposed features in our daily work lives are removed or are missing. For instance, my first startup supplied coffee to all of its employees. If that was suddenly taken away or it didn’t exist at all, there would have been a lot of noise – especially form our coffee-guzzling sales team. The company knew how important this was and took every effort to make sure they gave us coffee.

From there, they raised the bar even further, asking the team what kind of coffee they wanted. This is exactly what it takes to keep employees happy and to prevent them from reaching “burn-out”. Again, it may all seem totally innocuous and low-priority, but from a leadership perspective, they knew perks like this were exactly why their employees liked their job.

Now, you’re probably wondering what it is business owners can do to learn more about burn-out and how they can combat it. The answer: employers should prepare and align themselves with employee needs. There are a variety of ways to figure out what it is your employees want, including surveying them.

Christina Maslach, social psychologist and professor emerita at the University of California, Berkeley, has been studying burn-out for 25 years and is now seen as the foremost authority on the topic. She offers surveys for employees and employers-alike, such as the Maslach Burnout Inventory and Professional Quality of Life Scale.

Aside from that, look at your employees as actual people. Ask yourself what reasonable steps you should take to make your employees happy in their job as well as whether or not you’d be happy in their shoes. If the answer to the second question is “no”, you probably have some serious research and thinking to do.

If you’re an employee, you’re not off the hook yet. You have some homework, too.

What do you need to be happy in the workplace? I challenge you to make a list of your must-haves and to seriously consider whether you’re settling for less.

Rachael Olan is a Texas-based Staff Writer at The American Genius and jack-of-many-trades. She's well known for her abilities in Marketing, Sales, and Customer Service, with a focus on SaaS and eCommerce businesses. Outside of writing, Rachael spends much of her time with her swarm of pets, including a 70 lb tortoise named Frankie.

Business Marketing

How to make sure your newly remote team stays productive.

(BUSINESS MARKETING) The tide of change is rolling in and may never recede again, so managers should know how to handle the new normal, here’s some advice.

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The Coronavirus pandemic has changed the way people work. Working from home is the new normal. It’s not only employees who have to think about how they perform, but managers have to learn new skills to keep their team engaged and efficient. I’ve worked on remote teams for over 6 years. Here are some things that have helped me.

Ask “What can I do to help you?”

I’ve worked with some great managers and some awful ones. The best ones had a collaborative attitude when discussing problems. Instead of laying blame, the question was “what can we do to correct this?” It takes a little longer to think in those terms if you’re not used to it, but it reduces stress. If you’re communicating through email or message apps, it pays to reread before hitting send. We’re all learning new skills in this new normal.

Make sure your employees have the technology they need

One of the companies I work for has specific programs they use and technology requirements. Before I was allowed to proceed through their final onboarding, they made sure that I could access their technology. If your team is working from home, they need to have the resources to be productive. It’s not just computers and software, but access to internet. One of my friends said that it took them over an hour to upload a 5-minute video to Facebook.

Define success; don’t micro-manage

As I’m writing this, Ask a Manager’s Alison Green posted a question about “what’s reasonable to expect from parents who are working from home. Just a reminder that managers may have to lower expectations from their team, not only for parents, but for everyone. I don’t have kids at home, but there are many distractions out of the ordinary. Managers have to accept that people aren’t going to be as productive in these not-so-normal-times. Identify priorities. Check in when you’re on a deadline. Find a balance between managing and micro-managing.

We’re all just trying to do the best we can

It doesn’t matter who you are or where you work, I think it’s safe to say that we’re all adapting to these crazy times. How managers handle their teams will set the tone for years to come. If you want to keep those employees who have been hard workers, you’re going to have to adjust to give them the benefit of the doubt.

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Business Marketing

Easy email signature builder quickly updates your info

(BUSINESS MARKETING) When’s the last time you updated your email signature? That long? You might want to look at just sign, a new, quick, and easy, email signature generator.

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The last thing any of us are thinking about right now is email. While we’re all staying safer at home, though, it’s a good time to think about all the little things that need our attention, but typically get neglected: clearing out the email inbox, unsubscribing from things no longer relevant, and updating our email signatures. Why the email signature?

Oftentimes, we change emails when we change jobs and forget to change our signatures to reflect our new address. The same is true with social media; if we happen to change jobs, due to our own choice or by necessity thanks to the virus, we may need to update our social media profiles accordingly, especially if the new job suddenly makes this a requirement.

One of the fastest ways to update your email signature is with a generator. An email signature generator can help you quickly make a professional looking signature in about half the time it would take you to manually add each individual component.

Just Sign is one of the quickest options I’ve seen. This email signature generator is ultra simple, ultra easy, and ultra effective. It allows you to add clickable social links, a profile picture or logo, and all relevant contact information. It also allows you to choose a color scheme and tailor the formatting a bit to your preferences. As you begin to add options to your signature, you can see a preview of what the final product will look like in the right-hand panel.

Just Sign welcome

This allows you to make any necessary changes before downloading the finished product. When you have your signature perfected, simply click the purple “generate signature” button and you’re ready to go.

Just Sign is an easy, quick way to check another thing off your to-do list while we’re all at home. If you have already updated your signature, you might save this link for later use as it’s a good idea to revisit your signature a few times a year. Oftentimes, I revise mine simply to keep the attached picture updated. Have you updated your signature lately? Do you plan to? Let us know what you think of Just Sign.

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Business Marketing

How one employer beat an age discrimination lawsuit

(BUSINESS MARKETING) Age discrimination is a rare occurrence but still something to be battled. It’s good practice to keep your house in order to be on the right side.

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Jewel age discrimination

In January, the EEOC released its annual accounting for reports of discrimination in the previous year. Allegations of retaliation were the most frequently filed charge, which disability coming in second. Age discrimination cases accounted for 21.4% of filed charges. As we’ve reported before, not all age discrimination complaints rise to the level of illegal discrimination. In Cesario v. Jewel Food Stores, Inc., the federal court dismissed the claims of age discrimination, even though seven (7) plaintiffs made similar claims against the grocery store.

What Cesario v. Jewel Food Stores was about

In Cesario, all but one of the seven plaintiffs had spent years with Jewel Food building their careers. When Jewel went through some financial troubles, the plaintiffs allege that they began to “experience significant pressure at work… (and) were eventually forced out or terminated because of their age or disability.” Jewel Food requested summary judgment to dismiss the claims.

The seven plaintiffs made the same type of complaints. Beginning in 2014, store directors were under pressure to improve metrics and customer satisfaction. Cesario alleges that the Jewel district manager asked about his age. Another director alleges that younger store directors were transferred to stores with less difficulties. One plaintiff alleged that Jewel Food managers asked him about his retirement. The EEOC complaints began in late 2015. The plaintiffs retired or were fired and subsequently filed a lawsuit against their company.

Age discrimination is prohibited by the Age Discrimination in Employment Act of 1967, (ADEA). The ADEA prevents disparate treatment based on age for workers over 40 years old. However, plaintiffs who allege disparate treatment must establish that the adverse reactions wouldn’t have occurred but for age. Because none of the plaintiffs could specifically point to age as the only determination of their case, the court dismissed the case.

A word to wise businesses

Jewel Food was able to demonstrate their own actions in the case through careful documentation. Although there was no evidence that age played a factor in any discharge decision, Jewel Food could document their personnel decisions across the board. The plaintiffs also didn’t exhaust all administrative remedies. This led to the case being dropped.

Lesson learned – Make personnel decisions based on performance and evidence. Don’t use age as a factor. Keep documentation to support your decisions.

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