In our modern world, much of our lives revolve around work and the workplace; many people spend 8-10 hours a day at work, five days of the week. Add travel time to this, and it is common for many to spend more time with colleagues than with family and loved ones. According to recent studies by Kronos, human resource leaders have linked employee burnout to problems of workforce retention. People are leaving their jobs because they simply cannot cope with the pressures of work.
This is not, however, just about the everyday demands of working, or about exhaustion. It is also inextricably linked with loneliness in the workplace. Alone among a sea of people. For a business, the disruptiveness and cost of having employees burn out and leave are obvious reasons to try and find ways to combat this problem, but it is not always straightforward.
In a July 2017 Harvard Business Review article the authors Emma Seppala and Marissa King have looked at what employers can do to try and reduce worker burnout and improve staff retention. They say that employers should “Promote a workplace culture of inclusion and empathy” and that “… workplaces characterized by caring, supportive, respectful, honest, and forgiving relationships lead to higher organizational performance overall.”
This itself seems logical; encouraging a good relationship between employees means that individuals have more support to turn to when they are struggling, and they are less likely to end up dealing with overwhelming tasks alone.
Support comes both in the form of help with everyday work tasks, and with emotional empathy and understanding. Deliberately encouraging and nurturing this sort of environment, especially in large companies, allows employees the time and space to form bonds which will help them in the future. Essentially, humanising the workplace makes it a more empathetic, positive place which allows everyone to perform to the best of their ability.
Stress in the workplace can most easily be combated by creating a positive workplace culture, and the impacts of not doing so can be enormous including a lack of engagement. The Queens School of Business and the Gallup Organization looked into the harmful impacts of having disengaged workers, which include 49% more accidents, 37% higher absence rate, and 16% lower profitability.
The American Psychological Association estimated that 80% of doctor visits can be attributed to stress, and stress exacerbates other health problems, affecting sleep, the metabolism, the digestive system, and other parts of the body. Unhappy workers are more likely to take time off, putting more strain on other employees, and decreasing productivity.
As Kim Cameron and Emma Seppala point out in their article , humanizing the workplace can lead to an enormous range of benefits for employers, including a more reliable body of staff who are more likely to take promotions and recommend their workplace to others, and improved customer loyalty of up to 233%.
One of the best ways to promote a good, strong relationship between employees is to establish peer mentoring and peer learning groups. In these intentional developmental networks, people who work together are encouraged to offer insights to their colleagues, to give feedback free from judgement, and to share knowledge and experience. Looking into tools such as the PRISM Collaboration Toolkit which provides a simple and effective peer mentoring process, can give businesses and employees a starting place that will help them build the skills to make this sort of group work effective and efficient, improving morale and the work ethic of everyone involved in the business.
King, M., Seppala, E., ‘Burnout at Work Isn’t Just About Exhaustion. It’s Also About Loneliness,’ Harvard Business Review, (2017) <https://hbr.org/2017/06/burnout-at-work-isnt-just-about-exhaustion-its-also-about-loneliness> [Accessed 25 September 2017]
Cameron, K., Seppala, E., ‘Proof That Positive Work Cultures Are More Productive,’ Harvard Business Review, (2015) <https://hbr.org/2015/12/proof-that-positive-work-cultures-are-more-productive> [Accessed 25 September 2017]