An anti-burnout culture

We’ve seen that a person’s personality and their job role can contribute to burnout. But by far the most influential factor in burnout is the organisational culture in which a person works. The culture - the set of commonly accepted assumptions held by members of an organisation - can really get under a person’s skin, affecting their feelings and behaviour.

Endless rounds of meetings, normalising and rewarding of working beyond normal hours, overloading capable people with too much work -these hinder an employee’s ability to do their job well and to have the rest time they need outside of work in order to stay healthy. Negative daily experiences build into burnout.

Leaders set the organisational culture, and so they can change it, by making changes to people’s daily experiences. (This makes a lot more impact than releasing a revised mission statement or making a nice speech, because what really matters to people is what work is like for them from day to day.) Here are some ways to build an anti-burnout culture:

• Make the workplace psychological safe, a place where people aren’t afraid to speak up and they know they’ll be heard.

  • • Keep meetings short, and only have them when essential.
  • • Always promote a healthy work-life balance. Ensure leaders model this.
  • • Take care not to overload the most capable people.

The leader’s role in burnout

Leadership, at whatever level, influences organisational culture and burnout. Clearly, if a leader is burnt-out - exhausted, cynical, detached, hopeless, helpless - then their staff are going to struggle not to burn out themselves. That’s why it’s crucially important that leaders understand burnout and do all they can to avoid it.

A leader who avoids burnout can still cause burnout in others, though. In particular, two types of destructive leaders have a detrimental effect on the culture and employees. The passive (laissez-faire) leader avoids actually taking the lead, and this gives rise to power struggles and confusion over roles and responsibilities. The aggressive, Type A personality leaders (among them, a good number of psychopaths) make work a misery for staff, who bear the brunt of their abuse, coercion and manipulation.

The ideal style of leadership is transformational, which encompasses the four I’s: idealised influence, inspirational motivation, intellectual stimulation and individualised consideration. These leaders set a great example, they inspire loyalty and commitment, and they genuinely care about their staff. Transactional leadership - based on rewards for good work and sanctions for poor work - can continue to burnout, where people feel cynical that they’re only working for money, but it has its place in highly structured organisations such as the military and in times of crisis when an organisation needs a firm hand.

Whatever the style of leadership, it’s essential to understand burnout; to recognise it in others (as well as yourself); and to be aware of the wider organisational culture and how it’s impacting people’s well-being. With this knowledge and understanding, you can take anti-burnout action, building a culture of psychological safety and, consequently, a high-performing organisation. One that people want to work for - yourself included.

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