The Daily Grind: Employee Engagement and Burnout

The Daily Grind: Employee Engagement and Burnout

June 9, 2014

Employees nap under desks, watch cat videos, and hide their heads in their hands – at least, that’s how a sea of office cubes is depicted on the cover of a recent Sunday Review in the NY Times. The headline reads, “Why You Hate Work” and looking at the illustration, it’s not hard to imagine why you might!

Tony Schwartz, CEO of The Energy Project, and Christine Porath of Georgetown’s McDonough School of Business have co-authored this interesting op-ed on the state of the workplace. They have discovered that even at the very top of organizations, there is a broad sense of burnout, stating, “Even if you’re lucky enough to have a job, you’re probably not very excited to get to the office in the morning, you don’t feel much appreciated while you’re there, you find it difficult to get your most important work accomplished, amid all the distractions, and you don’t believe what you’re doing makes much of a difference anyway.”

In addition to citing the well-known risks of disengaged employees, Schwarz and Porath also consider the additional, less-obvious qualities that workers need to feel engaged a the workplace. Partnering with the Harvard Business Review on a survey, they found that workers need: Renewal, Value, Focus, and Purpose. Renewal represents the time to take a break from work, which actually increases productivity. Value, of course, is being recognized, trusted, and cared for in the workplace, which is critical to engagement.

What is really shocking here, however, are the statistics on Focus and Purpose. Only 18% of respondents stated that they had “regular time for creative or strategic thinking” and only 21% were able to “focus on one thing at a time.” What’s worse? Only 25% expressed “connection to the company’s mission.”

So… that means that most workers not only feel undervalued and are overstretched, but they feel disconnected from the meaning behind what they do. And even if it did have meaning, they wouldn’t have the time to think clearly and strategically about what they’re doing anyway. No wonder so many feel burned out, in the face of unending and meaningless goals and thankless tasks.

Schwartz and Porath recommend rethinking the workplace. They write, “A truly human-centered organization puts its people first – even above customers – because it recognizes that they are the key to creating long-term value.” They suggest considering such issues as the physical well-being of employees, as well as setting limitations on email response times or time in meetings. They write, “It also makes a big difference to explicitly reward leaders and managers who exhibit empathy, care and humility, and to hold them accountable for relying on anger or other demeaning emotions that may drive short-term results but also create a toxic climate of fear over time – with enormous costs.”

It is precisely this human-centered approach that is the foundation for the work that we do here at Dittman. We believe that there are five things that create engagement and inspire the best in people in the workplace. Employees need: interesting and challenging work, to work with people they respect, to work for a company that has values they believe in, to work for a company that does something of value, and to be appreciated for the contributions they make. This has been our guiding philosophy for nearly 40 years and informs all of our solutions for clients and for our own workplace.

By thinking about what’s reasonable to expect instead of what can be extracted from employees, we can begin to create a workplace where people can do their best instead of burn out. Thoughtful brand mission and values should be manifest daily in the work itself and in the relationship to customers. This will go a long way to providing meaning and purpose for employees. A clear roadmap to this virtuous circle of behaviors can be created through a recognition and engagement program, intended to celebrate even incremental successes and to show employees that they are on the right track and valued by those around them at work. Combine this with making clear to leaders that people are a critical asset to the business to be handled with respect and care and inroads can be made into employee engagement.

To succeed, we all need to have meaningful work, in an environment that fosters achievement, and to have the time to do what we do to the best of our ability. Schwartz and Porath sum it up, saying, “In a numbers-driven world, the most compelling argument for change is the growing evidence that meeting the needs of employees fuels their productivity, loyalty and performance.”