Wellbeing threat | Is a 2024 burnout crisis inevitable?

Is a 2024 burnout crisis inevitable?

As 2023 gives way to a brand-new year, many companies will be looking to put the volatility of the past 12 months behind them and start afresh. However, one fundamental issue looks likely to persist into 2024 and beyond —burnout.

The pandemic and its aftermath have heightened stress levels, pushing employees to the brink of exhaustion. A recent study from Deloitte revealed that a staggering 91% of professionals work beyond their contracted hours, compromising their wellbeing and, consequently, organisational productivity.

And whilst it may well be the responsibility of managers to mitigate burnout in their teams, it seems that many are not equipped to deal with the issue. Microsoft's Work Trend Index recently found that 53% of managers report feeling burned out themselves, actually surpassing the average for employees.

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This unprecedented situation has left managers grappling with heightened responsibilities, managing evolving demands with limited resources, and often receiving little recognition for their efforts. To combat burnout effectively, it is crucial for leadership and HR to grasp the components of burnout and take proactive measures.

What burnout really means

Burnout, as defined by burnout researcher Christina Maslach, manifests as exhaustion, cynicism, and a perceived lack of professional accomplishment. Microsoft's research identifies six key factors contributing to burnout: unsustainable workload, lack of control, insufficient rewards, absence of a supportive community, perceived unfairness, and a mismatch of values and skills.

The study highlights the unique challenges managers face, juggling high workloads and the responsibility of ensuring their teams thrive. The consequences of burnout among managers are dire—reduced productivity and increased turnover. Managers experiencing all three dimensions of burnout are a staggering 5.3 times more likely to leave their positions, underscoring the urgency for organisations to address this issue head-on.

Mitigating burnout among managers requires a multifaceted approach. Meaningful work, continuous learning and career development, flexible work arrangements, psychological safety, and self-care emerge as critical levers in combating burnout. Organizations must foster an environment where managers feel comfortable discussing their challenges, seeking support, and actively participating in creating a healthy work culture.

As we delve into the statistics of burnout across industries, a concerning trend emerges. Future Forum's research indicates that burnout has reached an all-time high since spring 2021, with over 40% of full-time workers reporting burnout. Two vulnerable groups stand out—women and workers under 30. Gen Z and younger Millennials, entering the workforce amid the pandemic's uncertainties, grapple with high stress levels, lack of autonomy, and economic concerns.

For women, the burnout gender gap continues to widen, with intersecting stressors such as gender inequities, lack of promotions, and the burden of unpaid labour exacerbating the issue. The worsening child-care crisis adds another layer of stress, with women facing challenges in maintaining work-life balance.

Deloitte's marketplace survey delves into the drivers and impact of burnout, revealing that 77% of respondents have experienced burnout, with many feeling their employers fall short in addressing the issue. Workplace culture, recognition from leadership, and effective well-being programs emerge as pivotal factors in preventing burnout.

As we stand on the precipice of 2024, burnout threatens to become the workplace epidemic of the year. It demands a collective effort from leaders, organisations, and employees to prioritise mental health, redefine work cultures, and implement strategies that foster a sustainable and supportive professional environment. The challenge is clear, and the response must be swift and comprehensive to prevent burnout from becoming an enduring legacy of our times.

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