Burnout is the feeling of depletion, cynicism, and emotional distance that results from a lack of impact or autonomy at work. Odds are you’ve experienced the feeling at some time or other. Tired from the moment you wake up in the morning. Staring at your computer for hours without accomplishing anything. Finally logging off and leaving your workspace to find a whole other set of taxing jobs to do in the rest of your home—and life. And maybe even being impatient, withdrawn, or irritable with the ones you care about most. These feelings could be the result of burnout.
One explanation for burnout is that it is an occupational phenomenon that builds up over time, brought on by a chronic imbalance between job demands and available resources. Basically, that means too many things to do and not enough tools, time, or energy to do them. And “too many things” doesn’t have to mean a thousand: if the one thing you’re trying to do isn’t getting done, for whatever reason, that can easily cause the alienating feelings associated with burnout. And these feelings are quite different from simply feeling a bit tired or looking forward to a break.
If that sounds all too familiar, you’re not alone. Between February and April 2022, McKinsey conducted a global survey of nearly 15,000 employees and 1,000 HR decision makers in 15 countries. On average, one in four employees surveyed across various demographics and all over the world reported experiencing symptoms of burnout, per the Burnout Assessment Tool.
Burnout can have a major impact on a person’s well-being. It is typified by four core symptoms: exhaustion, mental distancing, cognitive impairment, and emotional impairment. But the problems don’t usually stop there: burnout is also associated with negative brain health symptoms such as anxiety or depression—which in turn can be associated with more severe mental health conditions.
Many companies worldwide are investing more in the mental health and well-being of their employees with benefits such as yoga classes or subscriptions to mental health apps. But as an employer, these efforts alone won’t create conditions for holistic employee health. McKinsey research suggests that there are concrete steps employers can take to improve the situation. Continue reading
by Cian McEnroe and David Rock
Robin, a perennial high achiever, has just been promoted to her first leadership position. But her first few months on the job have been tougher than expected: Her colleagues don’t joke around with her anymore, she’s pulled in different directions, and she’s constantly putting out fires. When one of her top performers suddenly leaves for another opportunity, Robin realizes her team is under-resourced. The pressure takes its toll, and Robin begins to dread Monday mornings. Maybe she just wasn’t cut out to be a leader?
Robin’s story is a familiar one. Sixty percent of new managers fail within the first 24 months. And this isn’t just an issue for new managers: 50% to 70% of new executives fail in the first 18 months, too.
To be successful, our research at the Neuroleadership Institute has found we must excel across three core domains of great leadership: being future-focused, being good with people, and being able to drive results. And yet, as we develop as leaders, our brains evolve in ways that challenge our ability to excel in these areas. We analyzed dozens of leadership development programs used by larger organizations and discovered they often fail to equip leaders across all three domains. The good news is that we can be taught to combat these tendencies once we understand why our brains fight us.
Focus on the Future
Rather than just doing the work of today, leaders must constantly scan for what’s next and make sure their teams are prepared. This is at odds with how our brains evolved to value the immediate and short-term future. Indeed, in one study, 27% of Americans say they rarely or never think about what might happen five years into the future. That’s a concern because anticipating things like industry trends, future skills requirements, and customer needs is central to a leader’s success. Continue reading
by Timothy R. Clark
I recently attended an all-hands meeting for a large corporation. The CEO took the stage and began discussing a fresh batch of employee survey data, focusing on the results of one specific survey item: “I feel safe to speak up at work.” More than half of the employees who completed the survey disagreed or strongly disagreed with the statement, indicating a culture of pervasive fear.
But that’s not the interesting part. With a distinctly scripted flavor, the CEO then proceeded to say: “It’s very clear that we need to create a speak-up culture. So that’s exactly what we’re going to do. In fact, we’re going to do it right now. Our speak-up culture begins today. We need your voice. We need your opinions. We need your honest feedback.”
I nearly fell off my chair. A leader who approaches an organization this way is either culturally out of touch or managing optics. You can’t speak a speak-up culture into existence. Rhetorical reassurance in the absence of true psychological safety is an abdication of leadership and an admission of failure.
Speaking Up Is Highly Vulnerable Behavior
Let’s put speaking up into perspective. For the average employee, speaking up is risky business because it introduces maximum personal risk. According to our global survey research, which now includes nearly 50,000 data points across 834 organizations, speaking up lives at the intersection of the top six most vulnerable behaviors from the 20 behaviors we measure in our Ladder of Vulnerability survey.
Here are those six behaviors, ranked from most vulnerable to less-vulnerable:
- Giving an incorrect answer
- Making a mistake
- Expressing your emotions
- Expressing disagreement
- Pointing out a mistake
- Challenging the way things are done