It's easy to find pictures of Japanese people sleeping in public places or nodding off in their office. For internet culture, this is a source for creating memes or jokes. For Japanese culture, it is a sign of dedication and work ethic. In the U.S., we have the phrase, “I live to work.” Apologies. The correct phrase is “I work to live,” but for many, two or three jobs or 50 to 60 hour work weeks is just how it is.
Whether you call it survival or success, a lack of work-life balance can lead to burnout which is not only costly on your health, it can also cost your company. An article posted in The Harvard Business Review states that “psychological and physical problems of burned-out employees ... cost an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in healthcare spending in the U.S.”
The symptoms of burnout vary from person to person. Sometimes it can manifest as a caffeine or alcohol dependence, insomnia, disordered eating, depression, anxiety, or even physical pain. Fortunately, whether you’re an employee or the CEO, there are ways to help prevent burnout.
Here we outline four main areas where burnout occurs and ways to mitigate these feelings for CEOs and employees:
1. Focus on Time Management
Have you ever gone to a meeting and thought, “this could have been an email?” On the other hand, have you ever received an email from a co-worker that they could have answered themselves with a quick glance at that paper posted on their cubicle wall? According to The Harvard Business Review, employees in upper management spend up to 16 hours in meetings and 8 hours engaging in email communications per week. Look for ways to schedule fewer meetings and streamline email communications to allow employees time to focus on their actual workloads.
Raoul Davis, CEO of Ascendant Group, implemented three 30-minute check-ins each week for core staff to address any major issues and stay on top of deadlines which helped to eliminate duplicate meeting topics and decrease email backlogs. With staff coming prepared to each meeting, information is received and everyone returns to their work in a timely manner.
2. Set Realistic Expectations
Technology may have considerably advanced in the past few decades, however employees are still human. The Harvard Business Review elaborates that the workload for individual employees has increased disproportionately to hiring practices and that many “companies overestimate how much can be accomplished with digital productivity tools.” By ensuring adequate staffing, employees will have both the time and resources to accomplish their goals, thus leading to increased efficiency and productivity.
3. It is Acceptable to Say “No.”
Answering “no'' will not get you fired (in most cases). When you constantly say “yes” to that extra project, helping Sam get caught up, or creating that excel sheet at 4:50pm, you are effectively saying “no” to your own projects and workflows. Being a team player is not synonymous with allowing co-workers and managers to take advantage of you. In the end, not completing your work hurts you and the company. Raoul Davis suggests employees and CEOs ask these questions in order to protect their time:
• Will this request distract me from being productive in the tasks I’m already assigned?
• Is this request going to help me achieve the objectives I agreed to fulfill per my job description?
• Is someone else better trained to handle this request?
• Will this request better serve the company than my usual job duties?
• Is this something I can reasonably handle for the short (or long) term?
• Can my already assigned duties be shifted to another employee so I can focus on this new responsibility?
4. Strive for a Strengths Based Work Environment
From the time we enter kindergarten, we are encouraged to be “well rounded” and of at least average proficiency in multiple areas. This mentality leans towards a deficit based approach; areas of weakness must be strengthened to succeed. In contrast, a strength based approach does not ignore areas of weakness, but rather focuses on maximizing peoples’ strengths as much as reasonably possible. Even if they don’t love what they do, people who work within their strengths tend to be happier, more confident, and produce better results. If an employee must work in an area in which they struggle, make sure they are given the proper training and support in order to be successful.
Regular meetings and open communication with core staff members can help managers and CEOs identify strengths and weaknesses. Whenever possible, give those employees the freedom to divide the work according to their strengths so they can efficiently collaborate. Not only will this lead to a more positive and productive work environment, this will likely lead to products of higher quality that are sure to please customers.
In our daily lives, although it seems cliche at this point, it is important not to neglect sleep, exercise, and nutrition. Even going for a 5-10 minute walk has shown to improve people’s mood and overall health. Although burnout regularly occurs in the workplace, it can happen at home too. Taking care of yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally is the first step to preventing and/or overcoming burnout and you can start with the four tips above.