Burnout is on the rise: How to build more a resilient workforce

HRD explores the neuroscience behind the worrying workplace stats

Burnout is on the rise: How to build more a resilient workforce

Workers across Australia and New Zealand are experiencing a higher rate of burnout compared to the global average, according to new statistics by Asana. The research found 89% of employees are working late – up 8% from 2019.

Nearly 8 in 10 (77%) of ANZ workers are suffering burnout and we’re using 11 apps a day, switching between them 27 times on average. Fatigued, distracted and disengaged, the research shows ANZ still has a long way to go to make remote working successful long-term.

HRD spoke to Vannessa McCamley, a principal consultant specialising in the neuroscience of leadership, who said for the last 12 months, employees have been trying to do more with less resources and smaller budgets.

“We seem to not have had really clear guidelines on the start and end of our working day, it has just blurred and a lot of us have been working within the four walls of our own houses,” she said.

“We saw an increase in the amount of people working later at night and that is impacting on the amount of quality sleep people are getting. Less than seven hours of sleep per night on average impacts how we top up the fuel to our brain to actually have the energy to work the next day.”

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McCamley said back-to-back virtual meetings and being glued to the screen for hours at a time is also contributing to the rise in burnout. She believes a “task epidemic” has begun, when employees have been focused almost solely on being productive and getting work done. It’s true that in some industries, there has been little opportunity for innovation and creativity as business leaders navigated through the pandemic. It’s why now is a key time to slow down, take a step back, and reassess how organisations are operating, she said.

“There has been a gap in making sure that everything we do is tied to the vision of the organisation - the why and the purpose,” she said. “Creating that trust with employees is really important right now, particularly in this hybrid and remote world.”

The Asana research found only 15% of employees feel totally heard by their organisation and it’s something that is having a knock-on effect on resilience. If hybrid working is to continue, organisations must facilitate ways to build trust between leaders and their employees, McCamley said.

How do you build a resilient workforce?

McCamley stressed the importance of the central vision underpinning the work employees are carrying out. She said communicating how their day-to-day work contributes to the organisation’s purpose is the first step to improving resilience. If employees feel their individual work is making a difference to the end goal, they’re more likely to be able to adapt and cope with the challenges up ahead.

The other key element is communication. She urged leaders to ask insightful questions of their employees, because from a neuroscience perspective, dictating things to people is far less beneficial than asking for insight.

“When you actually ask insightful questions and people have those eureka moments, it gives them a nice dose of dopamine which is part of the reward circuit in the brain,” she said. “When we put people in a reward state, even if the times are challenging and tough, they'll perform better for longer periods of time.

“They'll work through the challenges as opposed to having these dips and lags which take away their energy.”

Read more: How to improve workplace culture in four steps

She also encouraged leaders to take time out to celebrate little wins along the way. Whether it’s a team success or an individual’s, saying well done will go a long way to boosting overall resilience and engagement.

“Leaders need to be conscious of emotion contagion. Because even when you're under pressure, how you show up actually really matters,” McCamley said.

Noting your employees wins also plays a part in reducing the onset of imposter syndrome. In 2020, 68% of ANZ workers experienced imposter syndrome and McCamley said this is most likely because we have been so task orientated and teams have had less time to celebrate their achievements. But when a leader takes the time to call out an employee’s success, not only does it boost engagement, but it helps to keep any underlying feelings of inadequacy at bay.

The other big tip for building resilience is to ensure both leaders and their teams are taking enough “brain breaks”. In between meetings or tasks, schedule time to do some deep breathing, take a walk, have a stretch and increase the flow of oxygen into the body, McCamley said. Some businesses have even implemented “no meeting days”, giving staff the chance to set up their workflow to suit them. Strategies like this are going to be key to developing a resilient hybrid workforce ready to face whatever challenges 2021 has in store.

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