From Burnout to Well-Being

Every March, I pursue my maple sugaring hobby in our woods in Northcentral Pennsylvania.  It’s simple – requiring only maple trees and a lot of time boiling sap.  Across seventeen years of making syrup, the process has provided great opportunities for reflection – many hours for reading, thinking, and learning – to improve my personal and professional life and the success of companies that I work with.

During this year’s reflecting, I read The Burnout Epidemic, by Jennifer Moss. With rising employee burnout and a third year of pandemic-induced disruptive change now upon us, I wanted to understand the causes of burnout and how to address it.  The book offers many insights and tools to raise employee well-being.  Among them, one exercise piqued my interest: Moss proposes self-reflection aimed at connecting the impact of a company’s work to a bigger picture – its purpose. As an example, a realtor might ask, “[Am I just] selling real estate?” and upon reflection, recognize that they are “providing people a place [to] feel safe, where they can start out their lives, and where they can grow old”.

When sensing burnout, Moss suggests that organizations reflect on these questions to stay connected to the purpose and impact of their work:

  • What features of your work give it meaning?
  • In what ways do you push through feelings of demotivation?
  • What do you love about being a leader?
  • How do you choose to inspire purpose in your teams?
  • How should your staff feel about the meaning of their work?

Moss also contends (and I agree) that the path to workplace well-being is “easier if [well-being] is a focus from the top [through modeled] behaviors that we want to see in… employees.”  Not surprisingly, during the pandemic the desire for purpose in work is rising just like burnout.  Increasing numbers of employees want their organizations to promote a sense of purpose, or they will look elsewhere for it. 

Leaders, this is a call to action.  Moss’s questions offer a way to elevate organizational purpose and boost employee well-being.  A leader’s action plan for burnout might include:

  • Reflect on these questions about purpose
  • Share your thoughts with employees in an authentic and vulnerable way
  • Create time and a safe space for employees to offer feedback and input
  • Listen closely and act on what you hear – make it an intentional adventure to well-being!

I’d love to hear your thoughts and perspectives!

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