People Experience Series: Burn the burnout down!

The world is changing. We’re sure you’ve heard that sentence many times over the past year. Technology being implemented in just about anything, from our personal to our professional lives, is reshaping the way we work. With the constant development of artificial intelligence-based tech and robotics, some job will disappear only to be replaced by new, not-yet-imagined professions; some tasks and functions will be set to extinction and others augmented. No job will be left untouched by the digital wave, that’s the unavoidable bottom line.

But where do humans stand in this world of robots? While AI might offer efficiency and new ways of working, some things can’t be substituted. Organisational success still heavily depends  business on humans and their soft skills, like their creativity, empathy and leadership. We need them to create balance within the digital world. People will still play a crucial role in the evolution, competitiveness and innovation capacities of businesses. Ultimately, they’ll drive success.

Future equals uncertainty. However, the “out with the old and in with the new” approach leaves behind apprentissage that humans have patiently baked over time. We think that re-shaping and adapting what we have built until now can lead to a better, fairer and more socially conscious future. Nowadays, robots are making anxiety levels run higher because we already imagine how much of our work will be conditioned by them. And we don’t like it.  

Businesses need to start nurturing the workforce of the future. To help businesses deal with this himalayan task, our team at PwC Global, together with Lynda Gratton, Professor of Management Practice at London Business School, took on the endeavour of identifying 45 key organisational capabilities and how important they are to organisations around the world, in their report Secure your future people experience. Out of the 45 capabilities, five areas stood out as the ones businesses must invest in today for a bright, human-befriends-robot future.

We introduce the five areas and we dig into the first one, related to fighting burnout. Are you up for it? Let’s get started!

Five actions for better experience at work

The above-mentioned Secure your future people experience report shows where organisations could and should be taking action today to simulate people experience, and how it will help their business and their people thrive now and in the future. It prioritises five actions as key to building a nurturing people experience:

    • Tackle ‘burnout’ and boost vitality
    • Build social resilience
    • Nurture agility and adaptability
      • Support ‘intrapreneurship’
    • Provide autonomy

The good news is, some businesses have already taken some concrete actions to cover these five areas. The other good news is that you might find that some of this article’s suggestions fit for your business, and actually very feasible.  

Burnout doesn’t understand hierarchy

Stress, as defined by the World Health Organization is aglobal health epidemic of the 21st century”. People are continually connected to their demanding work where stress and risk of burnout are imminent. On the contrary of common belief, these aren’t just demons loitering busy executives. It’s a real issue that affect people at all levels and sets a real barrier to the climb of professional growth.  

According to this Harvard Business Review article, 20% of employees with the highest work engagement levels also report high burnout levels. While they display high levels of performance they also show high levels of stress and have the highest intentions of leaving their job. This means that companies are at risk of losing their most driven people.

Wellness programmes commonly implemented in the core of companies, only tackle the symptoms rather than the cause. Deliver vitality by addressing the work itself might be a more efficient solution. How can companies achieve this? Well, workspaces happen to be key to keeping employees’ energy and vigour.

According to our PwC Global report, most business leaders understand the positive influence the workspace and environment have on people, together with a manageable workload and a good work-life balance. However, most of them haven’t taken action to make this happen in their own organisations. The time of the world of robots calls for doing something now. Haven’t you notice your team and colleagues adding “artificial intelligence” to conversations not precisely because of the latest technology developments? They are worried about the future. Keep their vitality by providing a healthy workspace and giving healthy workloads.  

Fortunately, there’re steps businesses can take to address these issues, both of burnout and keeping vitality at the workplace. Here are our top four suggestions to start the vitality journey and avoid burnout.

  1. Build in more periods of recovery

Overwork, although a symbol of status and success in many corporations, is actually a story of diminishing returns. Research shows that work performance plunges when people toil for extended periods without a break.

Regular time off of work sharpen attention, bring mental clarity and inspire insights. Vacations not only are a boon to the way people think, but also foster greater life satisfaction. After just a few days of leave, people’s reaction time jumps by 80%.

The solution to avoid burnout? The report recommends frequent, scheduled, mandatory vacation. It suggests that managers must actively encourage taking time off and make sure that the vacationer does not return to an overwhelming workload.

  1.     Be purposeful about short breaks during the workday

We humans need periods of both physical and mental recovery. Nowadays, organisations race to enhance productivity without considering that doing more doesn’t necessarily mean doing it well. It’s quite the opposite. Doing too much undermines sustainable high performance.

Establishing a working culture that protects vitality and recognises that perfection at work is something only robots might achieve, could be the starting point. Indeed, robots are coming to help us perfect work activities and results; we are there to guarantee team work, make nuanced decisions and keep business relationships healthy.

You must recognise that your people need space and time to recharge their mental batteries, their creativity and inspiration. Brief moments of detachment also gives an opportunity to gain mental clarity and regain focus throughout the workday. People preserve energy and prevent burnout over the course of the year.

  1. Let employees choose when and where they work

The freedom to choose when and where to work is a growing priority for people struggling to find balance between their work and private lives. Yet many businesses still fail to create flexible working arrangements for employees.

Though it’s proven to increase productivity and retention, variety and flexibility is still in conflict with the traditional way of working, including standard work schedules in place since the Industrial Revolution. But while flexible working policies have benefits, it’s not without setbacks either. If employees become out of sync with others in their team or network, the value of their time is reduced, leading to higher stress levels and lower well-being.

To deal with this particular issue, the report suggests you should lay out clear rules that establish the time when people must be available – either physically or online – and allow them to have ‘protected time off’, during which colleagues must respect their need for recuperation. Also, the worth of flexible work will be appreciated only if your leadership monitors the activity and makes sure all the employees understand the concept, its rules and its benefits.

  1. Provide an ecosystem of workspace

We’re constantly connected to our work and, especially in open-spaces, we’re prone to interruptions, if not from our email, from our colleagues. The truth is, constant interruptions and noise leave us feeling exhausted. The solution might be to give your people the opportunity to combine coming into work with working outside the office, but also have both common and private spaces in the office.

The best work environments reflect the natural rhythm of collaboration: people need time alone to be able to focus and process information and come together as a group to build on those ideas.

To fully nurture vitality your business needs to accommodate several types of work environments and rhythms. For example, our PwC Global report shows 71% of respondents say supporting remote and virtual working is important to their future.

Empower your people by giving them a choice

Like Anne M. Mulcahy, former chairperson and CEO of Xerox Corporation, said:

Employees who believe that management is concerned about them as a whole person – not just an employee – are more productive, more satisfied, more fulfilled. Satisfied employees mean satisfied customers, which leads to profitability.

She couldn’t had said it better. Leading businesses need to recognise the value of their people experience and take the initiative rather than simply reacting to change. By offering employees a choice, might be the most productive and satisfying way to go.

It’s possible to bring people together, empowering them to deliver by offering a space and conditions that best suit their way of working. It’s possible to turn flexible working from a grudging policy into a differentiating source of energy, engagement and loyalty. And there are ways to help your employees see into the future, judge what skills they need and develop the capabilities for sustained employability.

By offering employees a choice, taking in consideration their workload, their working style and their need for some individual time, might be exactly what you need to keep the loyalty of highly-skilled employees.

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