“What’s Fueling Burnout in Your Organization”, written by Rob Cross and Karen Dillon and published by Harvard Business Review October 4, 2023, highlights the need for systemic improvements to reduce workplace stress and enhance overall well-being.
The world has changed, and so have the causes and strategies we need to use. I was surprised to read that it isn’t the typical article about burnout stating the common causes and strategies we typically use.
Instead, the authors state that this growing problem of burnout in organizations is attributed not just to increased workloads but, more significantly, to the escalating collaborative demands of modern work. It’s about leaders needing to recognize and address the sources of microstress, both in organizational structures and in the interactions with employees. There is a need for systemic improvements to reduce workplace stress and enhance overall well-being.
Here are some of the issues stated attributing to workplace stress:
- A significant increase in the collaborative footprint – the volume and frequency of interactions needed to complete tasks.
- “Microstress” is a small but frequent stressor arising from routine workplace interactions. These accumulate over time, significantly impacting both individuals and teams.
- Structural and Organizational Complexity has increased, partly due to changes in structures like matrixed and agile systems. This complexity can lead to more interactions per employee, increasing the chance of microstress. A client told me they had to go through 51 steps to approve a vendor. She felt this was ridiculous and asked for a meeting with her senior vice president. Once she reviewed this, the number of steps was reduced to 17 steps. It’s about simplifying structures, such as adopting clear policies and limiting product portfolios.
- Workflow Efficiency needs to shift towards agile, network-centric structures. Establishing collaborative norms and limiting the number of collaboration tools can help to reduce stress.
- Increasing team dynamics such as trust, healthy conflict, commitment, and accountability can increase the rapid pace of team formation and disbandment. Learning how to communicate is essential for efficient collaboration.
- Ensuring that employees feel a sense of purpose is important. This generation must align their values with the work they are doing and, in turn, align with the organization’s purpose. This understanding can help prioritize tasks and mitigate the transactional nature of work in technology-centric environments.
There is a crucial call to action for leaders to actively combat burnout by rethinking and reshaping the very fabric of workplace dynamics. This isn’t just about managing workloads; it’s about redefining how we collaborate, simplifying complex structures, and fostering a work environment that values clarity, purpose, and well-being.