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Why Burnout Should be a Topic at Your Next Board Meeting, and What to Do About It

The Economist ran a story about the future of work this week. Working remotely, we have reduced meeting length by about 15% and increased our total time at work by 2 hours per day. We might declare we have found an extra 10 hours in the workweek from nothing.

This productivity boost might seem universally positive, but there’s a catch. One of the critical topics in many boardrooms today is managing employee burnout. Sheltering-in-place, managing schooling, healthcare for elderly family members are just a few things that have become more difficult. Working longer hours while managing these stressors may compound the exhaustion.

Christina Maslach is a professor at the University of California, Berkeley. And she’s published research on burnout. There’s an excellent summary of her research here.

There are six progenitors of burnout: work overload, lack of control, insufficient reward, breakdown of community, absence of fairness, and value conflict. Three are more relevant today. We are more susceptible to work overload (since we’re putting in 25% more hours). It’s hard to feel in control today, given the health and socio-economic backdrop. And, the high definition video doesn’t quite capture a feeling of community, even in 720p.

What are the signs of burnout? Exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy. There are tests for evaluating burnout and work engagement. Here’s an assessment from Maslach’s article in the Stanford Social Innovation Review.

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There are other tests included one called the UWES (Utrecht Work Engagement Scale) is detailed here. It distinguishes between work engagement and burnout.

There’s a wealth of research to better understand burnout, and given all the stressors employees face today, startups may be well served to explore ways of assessing burnout and mitigating it.