In its most recent Revision of the International Classification of Diseases, the World Health Organization has officially recognized something that most of us have long been aware of: ‘Burn-out’ at work is a real phenomena, and a threat to people’s well-being. In addition to the more observable symptoms of exhaustion or reduced efficiency, Burn-out is also characterized by cynicism about one’s work. Cynicism is insidious; negatively impacting the individual’s sense of purpose and self-worth, and corroding the culture of teams and organizations. Much of the work we do at the Taylor Group is focused on heading off cynicism, by helping the whole person connect with intrinsic sources of fulfillment and purpose, at work and in every area of their life.
The big consultancies and business schools recognize this as well. A study by Harvard Business Review found that people’s ‘Inner Work Life’ has a dramatic impact on their performance. A senior partner at McKinsey says “People recognize that they can improve themselves by investing in fitness and diet and mindfulness.” There is a widespread recognition that engaged managers who prioritize well-being and positive moods have more motivated, creative, and effective team members. So if we know all this, why is Burn-out still a thing?
Our experience at the Taylor Group points to a few problems with the existing paradigm. We find that organizations often play a game of whack-a-mole, chasing individual symptoms of Burn-out and other related employee concerns with the ‘next big thing’ in people management . We’ve all seen how quickly ‘mindfulness’ has become commodified and compartmentalized in the past few years, treated like free microbrew or unlimited vacation; just another program a hip company ‘should’ have to compete for talent. What gets lost in this approach is a recognition of the whole person, and integrated approaches to meet their needs at every level.
The Taylor Group’s work recognizes that human beings are part of overlapping ecosystems. We must first examine and understand what is happening with the whole person, their team, and their company before we can effectively address the proximate cause of their Burn-out. In the always-connected work environment of modern business, particularly for knowledge workers, this integrated approach becomes even more essential. The line between work and every other domain of our lives is increasingly blurred. It is unrealistic to think that a standalone practice will be a quick fix to achieve overall well-being or establish work-life balance. We have a diverse array of offerings that address many different areas of life, but all of them are based on a recognition of this interconnectedness, and designed to work on multiple levels simultaneously.
For example: Our Vitality program addresses the very real physical effects of Burn-out, but creates a more meaningful context before jumping into new physical fitness practices by asking questions like; Why is this important to me? How can I add a positive emotion, such as joy, to this activity? Neurofeedback works on the brain, but starts by first pausing to reflect on what is happening in your world, and then having you declare an intention or desired outcome for the session. As one client puts it: “I come in for a brain session and she helps my soul as well.” A current course offerings, Cultivating Freedom, is about helping to recognize the unconscious interpretations and assumptions that put us in a mood before we even recognize it’s happening, and find ways to get upstream of that process, gaining agency and choice over how we engage with all the situations we encounter on any given day.
There is no easy answer to Burn-out. It can be countered on multiple levels however, and often by simply asking a question or setting an intention for activity you are about to engage in. It is critical that business leaders today recognize this, and work across the human and organizational ecosystem to ensure the well-being of your team. Doing so will not only ensure your people are more creative, productive, and efficient, but that they are happier and more fulfilled as well.