Encouraging employees to engage in human interaction

By Cara de Lange, Burnout Expert and Founder of Softer Success

Office meeting, group of people thinking creatively featuredBurnout is fast becoming an issue in the workplace with many employees not feeling able to voice their stresses and anxieties for fear of being looked down upon or not coping with their professional role.

Recently at the World Economic Forum held in Davos in Switzerland we learned that local clinics treating tuberculosis over a century ago are now treating burnout. The World Health Organisation has also called it a burnout ‘pandemic’ with more business and leadership teams revealing that people are suffering burnout than ever before.

But why is this happening and what can we do about it?

Burnout syndrome is becoming more common because of our workplace culture and ‘always on’ society. Managers are making ever increasing demands on staff and we are now seeing a trend of employees skipping holidays or even working while on annual leave. When employees are striving for success, the idea of reaching out and admitting they are not coping can feel that they are showing weakness and that they may be overlooked for promotion going forward.

Another symptom of burnout can be loneliness. Feeling so stretched and under-appreciated can leave employees experiencing isolation as they feel they just can’t admit that they are having too much pressure applied. When this happens, the workplace can suddenly feel a daunting and scary place, and this can then go on to affect other aspects of their lives such as sleep, diet and exercise.

An article in the Harvard Business Review (Seppala and King, June 2017) states that more and more people are feeling tired and lonely at work. The authors analysed the results of the US General Social Survey 2016 discovering that compared to some 20 years ago people are twice as likely to report being constantly exhausted.

I experienced burnout first-hand after working in various corporations around the world. In my experience workplace burnout could be reduced by implementing simple human connections and encouraging a more open and sharing environment, where staff support each other. However, there are a few hurdles I have noticed in my burnout journey that need to be overcome. In too many workplaces there is still a significant stigma around stress, burnout and mental health issues. Difficult managers may make employees feel that they don’t want to share any challenges and struggles.

Many employees put up a ‘front’ at work. When at work employees will want to come across as professional, organised and in control, and because of this it’s not always easy to be open and transparent about feelings, stresses and anxieties. This is especially common when under pressure.

In particular, burnout is high among executive staff who by virtue of their role and their place in the hierarchy are unlikely to socialise with members of their team. Feeling secure and safe to speak in this environment is often daunting and many will go unheard due to worries of losing their position and respect within the company.

To help alleviate burnout in the workplace, corporations should look to engage employees and increase human connections – encouraging warm, friendly and understanding relationships between people. Jane Dutton, professor of the University of Michigan and co-author of ‘Awakening Compassion at Work’ argues that compassion fosters great workplace resilience. Employers can also help employees build networks and assign onboarding partners from the moment someone joins the company.

Workshops where teams and groups get together and do meaningful work and deepen their human connection are a great way of increasing staff engagement with one another. This is also a great way of team building and can produce results when looking to open communications between departments. Burnout is on the rise, but companies can prevent it taking hold by rolling out these measures. Knowledge is power. The more we know about burnout the easier it is to prevent it. Running workshops & encouraging staff to engage with each other can not only can help alleviate burnout but also increases communication, strengthens teams and helps the workforce support each other – and that sounds like a great place to work.

About the Author

Cara de LangeCara de Lange is an international burnout expert, speaker and founder and author of Softer Success, empowering some of the world’s leading organisations and their employees to proactively prevent burnout. Cara’s powerful programme ‘Prevent Burnout, Find Balance’ enables individual clients and corporate teams to create a more harmonious, peaceful and productive life.

Cara is a sought-after keynote speaker on the subject of burnout and has been invited to speak at organisations such as Google, Box and European Women in Tech.  Her book Softer Success: Prevent Burnout, Find Balance and Re-Define Your Success, published in 2019 is available via Amazon, Waterstones and Barnes & Noble.


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