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Solving for burn-out and stress is so much more complicated than delivering wellbeing tools. What employees want is a culture that is supported by leaders that exemplify wellbeing themselves.
There is a lot of buzz around wellbeing and burn-out these days. Anyone working in corporate America is likely familiar with the concept of burn-out. The official definition is when workplace stress has not successfully been managed and is characterized by: 1) Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion, 2) Increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job, 3) Reduced professional efficacy. Employees today are suffering from record numbers of work-related stress and burn-out and we can’t blame it on Covid any longer. But let’s be completely honest, American workers were suffering from burn-out way before Covid hit.
In my quest to understand how we got here I’ve created a timeline showing the progress society and corporations have made when it comes to increasing wellbeing. It’s crazy how much good has happened over the past 125 years. Let’s do a speedy time travel to review:
During the Industrial Revolution (early 1900’s), employers were most concerned with keeping people alive on the job. Lots of legislation was passed that was meant to protect workers such as the Federal Compensation Act in 1916 and the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) of 1938 to name just a few.
As we approached the middle of the century, The Civil Rights Act of 1964 was passed making it illegal to discriminate based on race, color, religion, sex, & national origin. This legislation paved the way for more equality in the workplace. OSHA was passed in 1970 dictating minimum health & safety standards for the workplace and Corporations started launching EAP programs (originally for alcohol abuse).
It's during the 1980’s and 1990’s that Corporations realized the health of their employees impacted their bottom-line. Even though the US Surgeon General linked smoking to cancer in 1964 it wasn’t until the 1980s that smoking cessation programs, health fairs & health screenings were offered as a benefit to employees because health insurance costs were soaring. Additionally, corporations rolled out benefits such as fitness reimbursements and on-site fitness centers in the hopes that employees would exercise more leading to improved health, lower absenteeism, and increased productivity. Concierge services, on-site dry cleaning, day-care centers, and cafeterias that served 3 meals a day became commonplace for the progressive employer that offered a ‘great place to work’! Companies made it so great employees never had to leave and could work to their hearts’ content. And of course, we can’t forget about technology’s role in advancing our wellbeing and productivity. It’s during these decades that the desktop became the laptop, and the flip-phone became the blackberry. Talk about efficiency! Now we could take work home with us and be attached to it 24-7. The rise of instant gratification!!
As we exit the Dot.Com era leading up to the Covid Pandemic, we see a shift from major legislation to major social movements led by normal people demanding equity such as ‘Black Lives Matter’ and ‘Me-too’. A focus on DEI training, creation of employee resource groups, paternity benefits, and more financial education all become areas of focus in corporate America in response to people’s concerns.
But then a global pandemic took the world by surprise and business was faced with a challenge it never faced before. Businesses had to figure out how to keep the wheels on the bus while isolating, while homeschooling, while facing fear of the unknown, illness & death. For many, what seemed important before Covid was no longer important. When the great pause button was hit, many people asked themselves pivotal soul-searching questions, and had personal revelations that made it impossible to be who they were pre-covid. It became clear, a return to ‘normal’ was impossible. What is needed by corporations to address these new revelations is a new kind of leadership.
The aftermath of Covid is demanding a ‘Human-Centric’ kind of leadership. Employees have realized there is so much more that matters to them than work. They’ve realized that life is short and unpredictable. Employees are questioning bigger life matters and wondering how their job/career fits into the picture. As such employees are expecting more, and better. The post-covid employee wants their employer to care about their wellbeing not because it’s actually better business, but because it’s the right thing to do. Employees today want leaders to move beyond just caring about their physical and mental health but also their spiritual health.
Burn-out and wellbeing cannot be solved with EAPs, mediations apps, and fitness reimbursements. In fact, the research has shown that these benefits are not moving the needle and not giving employers a return on their investments. Solving for burn-out and stress is so much more complicated than delivering wellbeing tools. Although there is a place for these tools and they are nice benefits to offer, what employees want is a culture that is supported by leaders that exemplify wellbeing themselves. It is only in this authentic demonstration of wellbeing by leadership, that cultures of wellbeing can exist and thrive. If you want to create these cultures, you must intentionally invest in the wellbeing of your leaders. You must intentionally invest in helping them understand what wellbeing is, what it looks like day-to-day personally and professionally, how it translates to effective leadership, and help them make the necessary changes. The wellbeing of your leaders has a direct impact on their productivity, on their leadership style, and on their teams. This is the only solution that will make a real difference on a grand scale, and like any great initiative, it requires commitment.
At Front Goose Wellbeing we focus on creating cultures of wellbeing one leader, one team, and one organization at a time. Visit us to learn more about our complete list of services.
1. “Burn-out an "occupational phenomenon": International Classification of Diseases,” World Health Organization, 28 May 2019, https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases
2. Diego Montano, Anna Reeske, Franziska Franke, Joachim Hüffmeier, 2016, July 21, “Leadership, followers' mental health and job performance in organizations: A comprehensive meta-analysis from an occupational health perspective” American Journal of Psychology