Addressing employee burnout: Are you solving the right problem?

Viewed in McKinsey Health Institute

Global corporate workplaces face something of a crisis as it relates to mental health and work burnout. That is the bad news.

The good news: Employees increasingly recognize the problem and are seeking solutions, and employers have responded with an unprecedented level of financial commitments to identifying programmatic and other solutions that reflect well-intentioned responsiveness.

Yet the crisis persists, which suggests that all the well-intentioned initiatives to date still are not sufficient and that a more exacting understanding  is necessary to both diagnose and treat the problem.

Wellness programs are ubiquitous

McKinsey, in this detailed report on employee burnout, reports that an estimated nine of ten organizations now have some form of wellness program in place designed to address employee burnout. That’s a giant leap from where these organizations were five or ten years ago.

The problem to date, though, is that these programmatic offerings are largely structured to address the symptomatic nature of employee burnout. Conversely, very little is being done to identify, understand, and resolve their core causes, which is the appropriate first step of intervention.

What are the ultimate core causes of workplace burnout?

McKinsey offers a series of plausible explanations based on extensive surveying. “Research shows that, when asked about aspects of their jobs that undermine their mental health and well-being, employees frequently cite the feeling of always being on call, unfair treatment, unreasonable workload, low autonomy, and lack of social support,” McKinsey writes.

Considerable research

 As McKinsey often does in their valuable reports, the conclusions they draw in this study are based on considerable firsthand research. In this case, the management consulting giant surveyed nearly 15,000 employees and 1,000 human resource decision makers in 15 countries in search of a greater understanding of the various factors contributing to this workplace challenge, which must represent one of the more thorough global assessments to date on the crisis of workplace burnout.

Employees vs. employers

For starters, as is the case on a number of other workplace challenges, McKinsey found that employers and employees see the crisis very differently. In fact, a 22 percent gap exists in their respective outlooks—“with employers consistently rating workplace dimensions associated with mental health and well-being more favorably than employees,” the report finds.

India vs. Mexico

Equally intriguing are the country-specific findings. Among the 15 countries surveyed, employees in India far and away lead the pack in workplace burnout with 38 percent of them reporting burnout symptoms “sometimes, often, or always.”

Among the 15 countries, employees in Mexico, conversely, report the lowest burnout symptoms with 19 percent reporting they experience them “sometimes, often, or always.”

South Africa vs. Egypt

Among these 15 countries surveyed, South Africa leads the pack with 84 percent of South African organizations’ human resource decision makers reporting that mental health is a “top priority.” Egypt is the most lacking in this respect with 52 percent of Egyptian organizations’ human resource decision makers reporting that mental health is a “top priority.”

Nailing toxic workplace behavior

A final important finding from this thorough assessment of workplace burnout globally: “Toxic workplace behavior was the biggest predictor of burnout symptoms and intent to leave,” McKinsey writes. Among employees intending to leave their jobs, an astonishing 73 percent report that toxic workplace behavior as the primary motivating factor in their decision to leave their jobs.

Employee wellness and employee retention

That certainly suggests that toxic workplace behavior is not just a challenge for employee wellness in the workplace but a primary issue in employee retention. In the year to come, efforts to assist employees with resilience and management efforts focused on ridding their organizations of toxic behaviors will understandably prove a priority as companies continue to seek remedies to employee burnout and a cultivation of employee satisfaction and enhanced retention in a tight labor market.

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