During last week’s Diversity Women’s Business Leadership Conference, the topic shifted to women leaving the workplace first during the pandemic, and now as part of the great resignation – which isn’t over yet as nearly two-thirds of workers are hunting for a new job, and nearly nine out of ten company executives are seeing higher than normal turnover in their organizations. Looking at reasons for the exodus, Michele Meyer-Shipp, who most recently served as the first highest ranking woman at Major League Baseball in the role of Chief People & Culture Officer, felt that for many women the cause was simple – burnout.
She’s definitely on to something. A recent report from Limeade, a software firm that surveyed 1,000 full-time U.S. workers, found that in fact burnout (40%) is the main reason respondents left their job, followed by organizational changes (34%), lack of flexibility and not feeling valued (20%), and insufficient benefits (19%). A June survey of 2,800 workers from global staffing firm Robert Half further backed that up and found that more than four in ten employees (44%) say they are more burned out on the job today compared to a year ago. And last but not least, a study by Asana of 13,000 knowledge workers across eight countries found that 71 percent had experienced burnout in the past year.
As if living through a global pandemic weren’t enough, the workplace shifted as the world adapted to shutdowns, surges, and all other associated pandemic issues. Being in the office, at home, back in the office, or a hybrid of both further taxed an already stressed system and women oftentimes bore the brunt of those never-ending changes. Meyer-Shipp was quick to point out that while no one size fits all, a lot (a LOT) of women are burned out as a result. “As people started to leave the workplace, women were picking up extra workloads and carrying the weight for their teams, their departments, their organizations and literally got to that point where it’s like, ‘enough’. It’s like, ‘seriously people like I’m not doing this anymore.’ I think we had a lot of that.”
Granted, many women and men were burned out before the pandemic, but during those first months they had time to think, time to re-assess, and time to plot a move forward that didn’t include the stress that was increasingly associated with their jobs.
Before you blame the employee for burnout because of their resilience, backbone, yoga practice – or lack thereof – you have to realize that they have little to do with the root causes of the condition. According to the foremost expert on burnout, Christina Maslach, social psychologist and professor emerita of psychology at the University of California, Berkeley, we are attacking the problem from the wrong angle. “Categorizing burnout as a disease was an attempt by the WHO (World Health Organization) to provide definitions for what is wrong with people, instead of what is wrong with companies. When we just look at the person, what that means is, ‘Hey we’ve got to treat that person.’ ‘You can’t work here because you’re the problem.’ ‘We have to get rid of that person.’ Then, it becomes that person’s problem, not the responsibility of the organization that employs them.”
However, a Gallup survey actually found that the top reasons for burnout are unfair treatment, unmanageable workloads, a lack of role clarity, a lack of communication and support, and unreasonable time pressures – all of which have been exacerbated by the pandemic. That furthers Maslach’s assertions that the root causes of burnout do not lie with the individual, but with the workplace as a whole. Current events such as the great resignation are not happening as a result of people not wanting to work, but instead prove that they’re burned out and need more workplace support.
Emphasizing the need for honesty and transparency from managers and employees, Brandon Greiner, vice president of operations for MedExpress, says, “An important first step in keeping stress in check is for managers to regularly check in with employees and encourage them to provide honest feedback regarding their workload, work environment and responsibilities.”
Lindsay Lagreid, senior advisor at Limeade, takes that further by saying that managers need to also start asking better questions. “Asking ‘How ya doing?’ and accepting answers like ‘I’m fine’ or ‘hanging in there’ aren’t going to cut it anymore. Instead, try more specific questions like:
*Have you been able to complete your projects on time? If not, why do you think that is?
*Do you have the resources you need to get your work done? If not, what else would you need?
*What can I do to make your job easier?”
We are still navigating unprecedented times and burnout, like so many other issues this pandemic has brought to the forefront, needs to be recognized and explored. That means we need to talk about it, look for ways to address it, and ultimately define ways to prevent it from happening in the first place. Keep in mind the fact that collectively taking action on this issue at every level is crucial to get and keep women employed and in the pipeline for advancement. Ultimately, this is a time of reinvention and change, and in order to hold on to top performing women and men, the workplace not only needs to recognize the issue, but make some changes of its own.