Welcome to TL;DR (Tracy’s Latest Discussion Recap). We’re keeping you up to date on thought leadership from Tracy Lawrence, CEO & Co-Founder of Chewse. Today’s topic: why your employees need to take breaks, and what “employee burnout” means in the modern age.

Workplace community – and healthy office culture – means your employees feel supported and cared for at work. Depending on your business and your workplace culture, it can mean anything from “I’m friends with my coworkers” to “I feel comfortable talking to my boss about feeling overwhelmed.” 

Healthy office culture isn’t just “nice to have” – it’s actually key to employee success. Your workplace culture is another way of reminding your employees that you value them. It’s a way of saying that they’re important as human beings – not just as cogs in the larger machine. 

Employee burnout, then, happens when you miss that mark.

Employee burnout: the problem

Did you know that employee burnout affects 96% of millennials? And burnout isn’t coworkers who take a day off or say they’re tired. According to the World Health Organization it’s an “occupational phenomenon.” In their chapter about mental health in the workplace, the WHO writes

Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

    • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
    • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and
    • reduced professional efficacy.

The rise of employee burnout, like the rise in workplace loneliness, is caused, among other things, by lack of connection in the office. When coworkers don’t feel supported, they recede into their work. Worse, they’re often praised for it! As Tracy writes: 

Our culture tells us that being a good employee means being always “on,” so we take work with us everywhere we go

Most modern employees, for example, check their email first thing in the morning. They reply to emails on the weekends – they might even answer a work call during dinner. Any of these actions – in a vacuum – aren’t inherently bad. But when you put them all together and keep it up for weeks or months at a time, you get employee burnout.

Employee burnout: what you can do

Unfortunately, employee burnout is nothing new in our workplace society – you might even argue that it’s “expected.” So fighting employee burnout takes an active effort from workplace leadership. Without such a vocal, visible encouragement to take breaks, employees may worry that they’ll be punished or viewed in a negative light. In her article “Tell Them It’s OK to Take a Break (and Meal It!),” Tracy writes: 

Unless [the message about taking a break and prioritizing self-care] comes from company leadership, employees may be afraid they’ll be punished for taking care of themselves.

Company-wise encouragement to take breaks is great – and extremely valuable! But employees may not feel truly encouraged unless their manager is able to have a proactive, personal conversation with them. Not to say that it’s easy. Discussing “personal” workplace matters can be a tricky conversation to navigate! In her article, Tracy elaborates: 

Many well-meaning managers wait for their employees to bring problems to them, but employees might worry that they’ll be viewed as lazy if they mention feeling burned out… [So, consider adding] questions to your performance management processes designed to take employees’ emotional temperatures. Whether it’s with a reporting tool or in regular one-on-one meetings, open the conversation by asking how overwhelmed they’re feeling.

These conversations will be hard! These conversations will take work! But at the end of the day, the ability to have open, honest, compassionate conversations with your coworkers and direct reports is the best marker of authentic connection in the workplace. The results speak for themselves – as Tracy cites: 

According to Gallup, employees who feel their managers are willing to listen to work-related issues are more than 60% less likely to experience burnout.”

So how can you get there? 

How healthy office culture can make a difference

A healthy workplace community can help combat employee burnout. That’s because, when employees feel supported and welcome at work, they’re less likely to feel pressure to work to excess. More importantly, workplace events are the loudest way of saying “we value you – outside of your metrics.” 

There are plenty of ways to create workplace community – from the elaborate (like a painting or cooking class) to the daily (office catering, anyone?) to the just-because special occasions (happy hour and cake for days!). Importantly, though, at least some of these events should happen during the workday. That’s because, as Tracy explains: 

When you host events during work hours you prove that culture and relationship-building is part of work — therefore some of it should happen during work time.

We don’t have anything against a good happy hour or afternoon party! But, by throwing some office community-building events during the workday, you’re clarifying to your employees that making space for self-care is work. 

There are steps you need to take, though, before you can get there. As Tracy writes: 

It’s worth reflecting on your company values. What are the norms and expectations around when your employees should be working? What are the exped cctations surrounding vacation and other time off? If employees receive an email on the weekend, are they expected to reply? … You might find a disconnect between what you think is happening and what employees actually experience.

Office culture is, by nature, different for every office. It’s up to you to decide what you want your workplace community to be like (though we have a helpful blog to help you figure that out!).

Addressing employee burnout

At the end of the day, it’s up to you to figure out the best way to address employee burnout in your office. In her TLNT article, Tracy ends:

Addressing burnout is important to your employees’ mental and physical health. But it’s also key to your company’s success. When employees are rested and have time and energy to pursue hobbies and connect with family and friends, they can bring their best selves into the office.

Well said, Tracy! 

To read Tracy’s article “Tell Them It’s OK to Take a Break (and Meal It!),” on TLNT, click here!