How Building Resilience Now Helps You Avoid Burnout in the Future
By Adam Markel
Economists, sociologists and others have been trying for most of the past year to figure out what’s driving the “Great Resignation” — the millions of people who have been quitting their jobs. Was it wage stagnation? Job dissatisfaction? Pandemic safety concerns? All of the above?
One notion holds that the pandemic caused many people to pause and reevaluate what is most important in their lives. Furloughs, lockdowns and working from home allowed people to look at their lives and their work through a fresh set of eyes. They decided the grind of their jobs just wasn’t worth it anymore, so they quit.
A record 47 million Americans quit their jobs in 2021, and by most accounts, the trend is continuing, with another 4.4 million people quitting in February. The same trend seems to be happening around the world.
New research finds most business leaders hovering near burnout
While the reasons people quit vary, there are some broad trends driving the Great Resignation, including the fact that many people are hovering near the possibility of burnout. How do we know? More than 3,000 business leaders and professionals told us by taking our Resilient Leader Assessment. This is a proprietary 16-question survey we developed to help people determine a kind of resilience credit score in four zones: physical, mental, emotional and spiritual. Some of our key findings include:
Overall, none of the average responses fell within the “green zone” for optimum resilience.
More than one-third of all respondents scored in the “red zone,” where chronic stress and change render them vulnerable to acute events.
The average score of 64 out of a possible 100 means many of us are hovering close to burnout.
Average scores for physical resilience fall completely in the red (danger) zone, due largely to the amount of time business leaders spend on their smartphones. Many also report they work in the evenings and on weekends. They’re afraid of losing their edge, so they’re working themselves to the bone, riding that edge of overload.
This is an organizational problem, as many leaders are modeling the kinds of toxic behaviors that can lead to burnout for their teams.
Build resilience before you even need it
The World Health Organization says burnout is caused by “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” It is characterized by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”
Healthy organizations care about the health and resilience of their workers — not just physically, but also mentally, emotionally and even spiritually. When leaders and workers get depleted in any of these areas, they are more susceptible to burnout and more likely to quit. Therefore, we need to take steps to build our resilience before we need it.
One of the ways organizations can fight burnout is to encourage employees to establish and practice resilience rituals. These are things we do each day, or multiple times daily, to recharge, replenish, renew our energy and recover from stress.
Building small, daily resilience rituals is an easy way to make deposits into your resilience bank account before you need it. It might mean scheduling time to take a breather between meetings. It might mean rotating days off, taking a walk outside or simply weaving thoughts of gratitude throughout the day. Switching back and forth between intense activity, focused performance and periods of rest and recovery is how we develop resilience. Build recovery into your workday so you can toggle back and forth between being “on,” with full focus and creativity in everything you’ve got to do for your work, and being “off,” truly at rest.
In addition to the fact that many people are hovering near burnout, we found evidence of something else driving the Great Resignation: a disconnect between what leaders say is most important in their lives and how they actually allocate their time and energy.
We asked people how much they agreed or disagreed with the statement: “I’m engaged in a livelihood that’s in line with my core values and beliefs.” Most people we surveyed agreed. But we also found widespread agreement with these statements: “There are significant gaps between what I say is most important in my life and how I actually allocate my time and energy” and “I don’t invest enough time and energy in making a positive difference to others or to the world.”
One of the reasons many people have left their jobs is they are seeking to fill the gap between what they say is most important in their lives and how they are actually allocating their time and energy. And when it comes to making a positive difference for others and the world, many people don’t feel like they are doing enough.
Every day we are bombarded with news of all the things that are wrong in the world. So, it is only natural that caring, compassionate, empathetic people want to do something about it.
One of the ways we define resilience is how well we utilize change and leverage uncertainty as a catalyst for growth. The growth opportunity of the Great Resignation is for organizations to understand at a deeper level why people are leaving and respond in ways that make the workplace better for new employees and those who return.
Listen to your employees
For too long, workplaces have failed to care appropriately about the exhaustion of their employees and whether they’re spending time on what is important to them versus what they’re being paid to do. In many work cultures, people are not willing to speak honestly about the stress they are under or ask for help. Leaders can change that by speaking truthfully and transparently and listening to their employees’ challenges and needs.
Organizations that are open to listening to what’s really going on within the company will learn what they need to be able to help people grow. They can use that knowledge to create workplaces where people feel more valued and aligned with what’s important to them, which may, in turn, lead to a new phase we can call the Great Restoration.