Workplace burnout and what some are doing about it

Brandon Paykamian • Nov 18, 2019 at 9:16 AM

Workplace burnout is something we’ve all experienced at some point at most of the jobs we’ve worked.

While it’s often used casually as a way to describe feeling exhausted or disillusioned with a job, it was formally considered an “occupational phenomenon” by the World Health Organization in May.

It is not yet considered a proper medical condition, but it is currently included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases.

According to the ICD-11, burnout is “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Burnout, which happens frequently among workers in high-pressure sectors such as health care, is usually characterized by a lack of motivation, exhaustion, mental distance from one’s job, negativity and reduced professional efficacy.

Since the WHO made the designation, workplace analyst Dan Schawbel, who works as a research director for an HR advisory firm called Future Workplace, has weighed in on workplace burnout with various media outlets. Schawbel often points to the things companies can do to reduce burnout among employees, which he said often costs companies more in the long run as they try to maintain workplace retention.

Schwabel suggests stronger laws and the presence of labor unions could help better conditions for workers, thus decreasing burnout among workers. He’s also often pointed to shorter workweeks, increased incentives and schedule flexibility as other potential solutions to mitigate burnout.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. has an average workweek of around 44 hours a week — one of the longest workweeks in the developed world. For low-wage workers, that 40-plus-hour workweek is required to meet minimum living standards.

Nations like the Netherlands have average workweeks of around 29 hours. France has a 35-hour workweek and recently made it a legal right for employees to ignore calls and emails from employers when they’re off the clock. Meanwhile, members of the United Kingdom’s Labour Party have pledged to fight for a 32-hour workweek.

According to a 2018 global survey from the Workforce Institute at Kronos Incorporated, nearly 75% of 3,000 workers surveyed said they’d prefer to be able to work four days a week or less if they could. More than 70% of those surveyed said it's difficult to maintain a work-life balance with their current work schedules.

Because of this, some global companies have decided to experiment with moving away from the typical 40-plus-hour, five-day workweek.

Microsoft Japan experimented with a four-day workweek with the same pay rates over the summer, despite being located in a nation notorious for its high-pressure workplace culture. The company reported a 40% boost in productivity when giving workers a three-day weekend. Energy costs also fell by almost 25%, and more than 90% of the workers reported being happier with their jobs in general.

At the end of Microsoft’s summer trial, it seemed everyone approved of the change of pace.

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