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  • Writer's pictureLauren Pollack

The Role of the Workplace in Burnout

Updated: Oct 13, 2023

Thank you for following our Key Trends in 2023 Series! See the five trends and articles here!

Are the processes, practices, and places that served your company in the past contributing to stress in the present?

We hear a lot about “Burnout” in the media. The World Health Organization classified burnout as a “syndrome” that is caused by “chronic workplace stress,” in 2019. This heightened level of stress has become pervasive among employees, growing most steeply in numbers since the onset of the pandemic.

Burnout is a bottom-line issue with drastic effects on employee performance and culture. Somewhere between experiencing stress and achieving full burnout, organizations have an opportunity to support their employees while creating new ways of working.

A Culture of Over Availability

In 2020, many employees filled the time previously spent commuting, with additional work hours. Schedules became filled with back-to-back engagements utilizing new capabilities for virtual meeting. As in-person interactions have become more prevalent, there is a need to create new etiquettes for meeting schedules.

Clients have expressed that untamed virtual collaboration schedules have added stress on top of already stressful commutes, as they must adjust their train schedule to adhere to meeting requirements.

In-office days are still work-from-home days as employees often compensate for time “lost” to commuting by allowing virtual meetings and focus work to spill into personal hours. Without time to recuperate these work practices become unsustainable.

One Size Fits Few

Everyone has different levels of comfort in a workplace. Many workplaces have been designed to fit the fictitious average person, causing the majority of people to payout some level of energy to compensate for the psychological and physical stress of the workplace. Everything from lighting and ergonomics to seating placement and noise levels can reduce the effectiveness of your workforce.

Reduced environmental choice and control, hinder a person or team’s ability to perform at optimum levels. This can also be true for the home office, as many workers are seeking to complement their home experience with new places and people.

Is your workplace the reason for burnout or the remedy?

Many employers are calling their workforce back to the office, but without adequate reflection, this move is poised to create more challenges than it solves. Returning to an outdated office can reduce productivity, innovation, and increase stress levels.

Here are some factors that contribute to stress in an outdated office:

Connections | Employees often report high levels of stress with finding and connecting to technology in individual and collaborative spaces. Delays created by locating IT support for setups or a cable to bridge incompatible technology creates frustration and hinders productivity.

Noise Levels | Noise levels have long been a challenge in open offices. With the influx of virtual meetings, most spaces have not been optimized to support increased calls. Lack of sound masking and sound absorbent materials contribute to distraction and high levels of stress.

Isolation | Employees express feeling isolated in their workplaces due to low attendance in their area or the perception of low attendance due to the quantity of unused workstations. Relationships are dwindling as it has become more challenging to casually see co-workers outside of direct teams. Fearing isolation, employees are more likely to choose to work at home when it is difficult to book spots directly with their teammates.

Adjacencies | Delayed meeting starts are often the result of a workplace that is not optimized for collaboration. Transitioning between team neighborhoods for interactions with key collaborators can include long internal commutes.

Privacy | Places that provide audio and/or visual privacy are limited for the average worker to utilize. Opportunities to focus in low sensory spaces or feel comfortable having a sensitive conversation, are minimal.

Design & Location | Many offices have not been designed for developments in moveable technology or hybrid and in-person collaboration. All or nothing locations miss out on new operating models that might be a better fit for your workforce.

Between inconsistent technology connections, long internal commutes, and noisy or lonely offices, your workplace is likely contributing to stress levels. Bringing awareness to sources of strain for employees creates a roadmap to enhance engagement and efficiencies. Reevaluating your systems will ensure they are serving the future of your organization and creating appropriate boundaries to support your people.

Supporting Change

People-first approaches to change management are attuned to the impact of change on employees. Involving employees in the process and making adjustments along the way can ensure success. When engaging with a workplace change manager, office design projects receive higher levels of employee buy-in and employees express more comfort with the pace of change.

Company supported boundaries for meeting availability and workloads are helpful to employees, especially in times of organizational change. Reigning in over availability, in the interest of quality and longevity, can be institutionalized through team agreements.

Team Agreements

Team agreements, which give employees a platform to define best practices for working together are a useful tool in reducing employees’ stress levels. Formalizing new practices can restore employee focus on the areas that matter.

Through aligning on everything from expectations and etiquettes to operating practices, team agreements can alleviate strain and ensure organizational values are present in all levels of interaction. Cross-functional relationships can be mapped by workplace specialists to ensure all collaborative interactions are supported.

Time Flexibility

Flexible work practices, supported by team agreements, allow certain types of work and communication to be completed asynchronously. Asynchronous platforms and tools can open schedules, reducing meeting frequency, providing more opportunities for deep focus, and elevating work quality. In addition to enhancing employee performance, time flexibility can reduce stress levels by providing balance for caregiving or beneficial self-care practices such as mid-day walks.

Taking Action

Workplace specialists can create efficiencies and maximize the relevance of your processes, practices, and places. Interviews, workshops, and analytic platforms, provide a wealth of data that workplace consultants can use to uncover stress contributors and provide remedies.

This data can also be interpreted by workplace strategists resulting in effective layouts and spatial allocations that alleviate key sources of strain. Workplace consultants support your organization in creating ease and improved function for employees.

Through change, many of us are carrying outdated relics. It is time to assess when we do things, how we do things, and why.


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