There’s an epidemic sweeping through the office buildings of the corporate world and across virtually every work place and industry in this country – insidious, pervasive, and coldly destroying – like the tentacles of a cancer that has metastasized.
The Burnout Epidemic
Approximately 100 million full time employees constitute the work force in the United States. More than half of them are dying on the job – at least as regards their desire and passion to be there.
Gallup estimates up to 50% are not engaged in their work and another 20% are actively disengaged. This suggests that a startling 30 million are left to drive the productivity of this country – and the future of our economy.
The Gallup findings are clear on some of the most significant contributors to burnout and employee disengagement. It begins with leaders and their capacity to address three very basic areas:
- Carefully selecting the right people for the job
- Disproportionately investing in developing employee strengths
- Enhancing workers’ well being
But the percentages cited above do not represent the full scope of the problem.
The Lost Generation
More recently Gallup released what may be the most definitive study ever conducted on millennials – the results are staggering as regards our future. Specifically, in a survey with over 1 million respondents the findings included:
- Only 29% of millennials report they remain engaged in their field of choice
- 50% plan to leave their place of employment in the next year
Millenials will grow to 75% of the work force by 2025. Translation – the tipping point on our economy is near.
Why are Millennials Disengaging?
Again, it starts with our leaders.
The data reconfirms that those supervisors who understand and execute against the three points above cultivate far more “engaged” employees – and the impact on productivity, profitability, and worker attrition follows suit.
Unfortunately, these critical steps aren’t intuitive for many managers. It requires training – and a focus on emerging leader development. The call-out here for companies is simple but compelling – develop world-class leaders, coach them on the requisite skills, and the impact on employee burnout changes dramatically.
And yet there are multiple situations where “well managed” employees struggle with disengagement – requiring a closer look at issues like job fit, worker aptitudes, and career ambitions. A sense of purpose and direction can be a difference maker – especially for millennials.
This may be particularly applicable as regards point #3 above – the subject of enhancing employee well being. The argument could be made that this is sometimes the least understood dimension – but the notion that those employees who treat their career like a “corporate athlete” are much better prepared to deal with day-to-day adversity is very real.
What Separates Engaged Employees From the Pack?
The survivors may develop attributes that the “zombies” do not. Specifically:
- First, they built a sense of purpose in their career and their lives – and assume a broader view as regards their physical and emotional conditioning over the long haul. In turn, they’re better able to avoid fixating on just the current job assignment – and better able to deal with stress as a result.
- Second, they link to a mentor or formal leader. Those advisors often help employees recognize “wellness” is never going to be a completely company issued initiative – offering practical perspective less insightful supervisors are oblivious of.
The Burnout Busters are a summary of some of those time-tested points of advice. Any leader should factor them carefully if they hope to become a steward for balance and sustainability in life and career. They include:
- Find a gym. Join it. And then actually use it. Routinely. Your body can pay a toll in the corporate world – if you allow it to happen. Train like an athlete – perform like an athlete. Train like a spectator – expect to eventually have a nice seat in the bleachers.
- Make a commitment to understanding diet – and make healthy eating a part of your daily habits. Travel and the associated nuances can play havoc with what you eat and when you eat. You’ll either learn to negotiate that or you will develop problems. I’ve watched too many colleagues’ battle health problems because of an inability to learn basic nutritional guidelines.
- Embrace your friends. Social outlets are critical. And if your only outlet is your job – you are holding on far too tight. The job is fickle. It will love you at times and it will hate you at times but it will always look at you through green tinted glasses – yes, the same color as the dollars that power it.
- Find a life partner who “gets it” and can support you. If you’re lucky you’ll find someone who helps you put things into perspective and not be sucked into the tornado.
- If you choose to drink alcohol – limit it and do not make it a part of your work life – to include off site business meetings. I’ve seen multiple careers interrupted because of booze and drugs. And a general rule I have espoused for three decades – nothing good happens after midnight at company functions.
- Recognize and embrace your faith. There will be numerous opportunities where you will recognize the failures of man (and the corporate world). All of them can be placed in better context when balanced against a higher order.
- Develop and nourish hobbies outside of work – far too many make their vocation their avocation – a terrible mistake. Here’s a simple guideline I’ve used for years to check whether you’re too consumed by your career – if by the fourth day of vacation you’re anxious about work – check yourself. Forget the excuses – if you can’t truly uncouple then your interests may be far too narrow. There is life outside your career but you need to build it.
- Stay active. Amazing how many people I’ve watched grow old because of a sedentary life style. Those habits compromise you in your thirties and forties. They can kill you in your fifties and sixties.
- Continue to stimulate your most important muscle, your mind. It can be and should be a passion that sustains you long after your career is done. The body will grow old – barring illness, your mind shouldn’t.
Your career is going to knock you down from time to time. No matter – the well-conditioned athlete finds a way to get back up. But only if you treat your body as any player would.
If you’re lucky, it will last you a lifetime.
Straight Talk – There are four dimensions to your health and wellbeing. They extend far beyond your professional life. The physical, emotional, social, and spiritual aspects of your world are like table legs. If one collapses then the whole follows. Take the steps to nourish each and your chances for survival increase. Ignore one and you will ultimately pay the price.