What are the main risk factors associated with burnout?

  • an overwhelming workload
  • limited control
  • unrewarding work
  • unfair work
  • work that conflicts with values and a lack of community in the workplace.

The exact things that an organisation that practices empathy, like my mate intercepting the drunk driver, can avoid.

As I started to refer to in part one of this post, when feeling emotionally exhausted or burnout, millennials are more likely to feel dissatisfied and want to leave their job than baby boomers.

In a previous post on leadership, a return on investment is not enough for millennials. They will spend the weekend thinking about how they can make a difference to your customers. Come Monday morning and what do they hear? Stock price. Billing. ROI. Suddenly, their Monday music power playlist seems useless. They are sitting in a conference room listening to our lot drag on about cash flow. Don’t get me wrong, we can’t forget about these things but if we want to attract followers, millennials particularly, they need something to care about today. Talk to them about how we can make a difference, not the ROI report.

Fact: Organizations with a purpose bigger than money have a growth rate triple that of their competitors.

Don’t confuse culture with collateral. Free food in the meal room won’t do it. Millennials are not inspired to be more innovative over Subway. They need leaders who are motivated to push boundaries and think differently. Working in a cool office is really awesome. So is a free lunch. But a purposeful culture is more important.

Fact: A culture of purpose drives exponential growth.

Finally, get personal. If you treat a millennial like a number they will return the favour. Their job will quickly become nothing more than a way to make their rent payment. They will start living for Friday on Monday and count down the minutes until 5. After a few months of that, they will no doubt have a drunken epiphany and realize that they want more out of my life.

6-8 months in, they will resign. Or worse, they will quit and stay, and become a Dougie or Dorothy-Do-Nothing. That’s not good for you or them.

Millennials were raised to believe they could change the world. They are desperate for you to show them that the work you and the organisation does, matters even just a little bit. They will make copies, do the grunt work. But they will not do it to help those in the C-Suite to get their bonuses.

They will give you everything they’ve got, but they need to know it makes a difference to something bigger than your bottom line.

But hey, that is what resilience training is there for, right? They just need to toughen up. If they are highly competent people they can improve their working practices to avoid burnout. However, according to Rajvinder Samra, a lecturer in health in the UK, highly competent, psychologically healthy and seemingly resilient people are likely to face an increased risk of burnout. Adding more training for people, to the PD curriculum, to avoid burnout by encouraging them to be more resilient, is likely to become another stress, pressure or high ideal. This is especially so for the types of perfectionists who are highly self-critical. And this is not just limited to millennials.

So it’s not more training, it’s greater empathy. Walk in their shoes, C-suite people need to spend more than just a day in the life of their subordinates to truly have empathic responses to an organisation’s needs.

So how do we do it? We need to measure employee sentiment through empathic listening and supportive interviewing. We need to know how people are feeling over time. Just don’t do it with an NPS or ‘pulse’ survey. Radical transparency. Tell people what to expect. Jeremy Heimans, the founder of GetUp! argues that we have moved from a ‘need to know’ to a ‘right to know’ paradigm. Even our legislation has already caught up with this. You will have greater empathy in an organisation that acknowledges and practises that it members have a ‘right to know’ rather than a ‘need to know’. The belief you are protecting someone by keeping information from them is counterproductive to the concept of empathy.

Get empathy right, right through your organisation and any change process you may be going through will be much less fraught with angst and concern.


Shane Mallory

Shane is a performer, emcee, host, communicator, creative, mentor and innovative theatre director. He lives in Ipswich, Queensland with his wife Natalie, who are almost 'empty nesters' providing a home for their two daughters' dog and two cats.

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