In discussion with Wendy Lee Berger, global lead operations at Impact
Change has been a constant in the work we’ve been doing with clients for the past four decades. At a recent gathering of Impact’s leadership team we invited a group of CEOs and senior leaders from across our client network to join us to share their key challenges.
Key challenges facing global organisations
The common themes facing the global organisations we heard from were about the significant transformation and disruption caused by talent shortages, changing business models, mergers, supply chain pressures and the resulting impact on sales. These challenges are running in parallel to the threat of cyberattacks, the speed required to adapt to new tech, digitalisation, and AI. Of course, you can argue that global organisations have always had to deal with change. But what is new is that the current change is happening to an already depleted workforce.
Covid is over – the impact is not
The World Health Organisation officially declared an end to the COVID-19 public health emergency in May. While everyday life and work has returned to a relative sense of normal, the lingering psychological effect of the disruption can still be felt in employees’ decreased levels of resilience and increased levels of burnout.
Strictly speaking, burnout isn’t new news. However, what is different for our clients is that the stress and fatigue caused by the pandemic is now being compounded by the challenges listed above. This is creating a situation in which even top performers, who historically manage change well, are starting to show signs of mental exhaustion and strain. Traditional wellbeing programmes that just focus on self-care aren’t going to cut it, because – to quote Wharton’s Adam Grant – “burnout is not a problem in your head; it is a problem in your circumstances.”
How to mitigate burnout and improve workplace wellbeing
The clients we spoke to all agreed that the current business circumstances are extreme, with organisations attempting to operate and transform in a rapidly changing, high pressure world. So, what can be done to mitigate the effects of these challenging circumstances and improve workplace wellbeing? Impact’s belief is that organisations need to become more human-centred to create the conditions in which people can thrive. This extends beyond the traditional wellbeing offerings and into both your organisational culture and operational practices. This includes:
- Building a sense of purpose
- Giving employees increased levels of control
- Providing additional resources and
- Decreasing job demands.
Build a sense of purpose
Recent surveys by Gallup demonstrate that feeling a sense of purpose is a critical component to increased levels of employee satisfaction and engagement. Organisations should start with a clear articulation of their own purpose and the value that they bring to humanity and cascade down to an individual level by creating opportunities for employees to apply their strengths and passions in their day to day. (If you’re looking at ways to role model this from the top, you might like to read about our work with senior leaders and executive management groups).
Increase levels of control
Lack of control and uncertainty drives feelings of anxiety, hopelessness, and fear. While there will always be some element of uncertainty in transformation, you can give employees autonomy and agency within their sphere of control. For example, in the post-pandemic return to work, employees benefit from continued flexibility in choosing their working hours and location or you can allow your people and teams to prioritise and manage activities autonomously towards achieving clearly defined goals. (For another insight to this, you might like to listen to our podcast with David Berz from Meta on leading hybrid teams).
Provide additional resources
Trying to manage heavy or challenging workloads without the right level of resources can feel like an impossible task which adds stress and increases feelings of helplessness. Added resource is not limited to additional headcount, but can take the form of additional training, new tools, or more emotional support. (Why not revisit this podcast from May 2020 with Greg Bartlett from Impact Australia on what individuals need to thrive?)
Decrease job demands
Modern work tends to be complex and outdated or manual tasks can add to workloads and complexity. Identify low value, time-intense activities that can either be automated or eliminated to lighten the workload. Review legacy work habits like back-to-back hour-long calls with new organisational norms like 45-minute calls to create 15 minutes of space for follow up actions. (This case study from Modulaire Group, shows not only the impact of their programme on their learning culture, but how practical application of the skills developed have delivered $1 million of measure performance and growth improvements).
Overall, at Impact, we believe human-centric organisations put people at the heart of everything. By focusing on purpose-driven work, autonomy, resources and appropriate workloads, organisations can liberate the human potential within and create the circumstances that limit burnout and increase performance.