Burnout may be the corporate epidemic of our age. Reports are coming in from everywhere about the rise of burnout and its implication in the poor employee engagement numbers. Corporate communicators play a critical role in reducing the spread of burnout in the organization – and preventing it where it hasn’t started. Playing your role starts with understanding what burnout is before discovering what you can do to stop it.
What is Burnout?
Burnout has classically been defined as exhaustion, cynicism, and lack of efficacy. Reports vary about whether burnout is caused by the organization, the result a personal deficit of the individual, or simply a natural outcome of our world that impacts some people more than others. No matter where the blame falls, the question is what drives it and what can we do about it.
The key aspect of burnout is the lack of efficacy, particularly when viewed from the perception lens that communicators are all keenly aware of. The employee’s view of their efficacy is in question, not the objective reality of how they or the organization are doing. Sometimes stretch goals and continuous striving for the next level of corporate growth leave employees feeling that they’re not successful.
Stretch goals are critical to many organizations’ approaches to driving performance. The thinking is that, by creating goals that require a bit extra, employees will produce that little extra. When they do and the goals are met, all is well. But the challenge comes when employees deliver solid results but not the stretch goals that were hoped for. Should the employees view this as a success or a failure?
Too often, the message doesn’t make it through that solid performance can still occur even when stretch goals aren’t met. Instead of celebrating the successful completion of solid performance, the focus is on the missed stretch goal. This leads to employees who don’t believe in their own efficacy, the efficacy of their team, or the organization. That sets them up for burnout, particularly from the perspective of the continuing march of the next set of goals.
The Next Goal
As communicators, we’re expected to help the organization realize what the next goal is. However, if we neglect to celebrate our success on the last goal or don’t integrate that success into the messaging for the next goal, we encourage employees to believe what they’re doing doesn’t matter.
Feeling like nothing you do matters is a driver to burnout and something that we want to avoid. The more we can draw a connecting line between the success and the behaviors that the team did to create the success, the less likely they are to believe that their contribution didn’t matter.
The Communicator’s Role
As a corporate communicator you can slow the fire of burnout through your organization with these three simple tips:
- Celebrate Successes – Too little time is spent celebrating successes inside of organizations, because we forget that, due to our human nature, we don’t hear successes with the same intensity as we hear failures and misses.
- Connect Activity to Results – Too few people are recognized for their contribution to success. Connecting the key activities that led to success allows employees to connect their contribution to the results, allowing them to see that their contribution matters.
- Connect the Next Goal to the Last Success – The constant march of new goals can make everyone feel like progress isn’t being made. To combat this feeling, focus on how the current goal was made possible by the previous success.
In the end, the corporate communicator isn’t the only actor in the play of burnout in the organization. However, it is a powerful role in preventing the play from being a tragedy. A few well-timed communications can help bring a light-hearted comedy and dispel even hints of burnout.