Have you noticed the absolute glut of mental health articles released recently? Reported levels of anxiety and stress are at an all-time high and just this past year 2019, burnout was classified as a syndrome by the World Health Organization. That means the signs and symptoms associated with chronic workplace stress has been identified as a legitimate health concern. While the WHO stopped short of calling burnout a medical condition; it’s a known occupational phenomenon in the context of working life.

What are the signs and symptoms of burnout?

According to WHO, burnout is characterized by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”

Are we surprised that burnout has hit the front burner?

Absolutely not. The bulk of our time at The Roundtable is spent working with leaders on shifting their behaviours in order to flourish in a VUCA world. And relatedly the most in-demand skills as identified by recent studies from IBM are power skills: time management, stress management and dealing with uncertainty. We also spend time on values and purpose and ensuring that our leaders align their behaviour to their values and building new practices. We coach for resilience; we talk about finding focus and mindfulness-based practices that you as individuals can employ to create positive frames of reference.

Finding values, aligning to purpose, building mindful practices. These are critical tools to offset the risk of burnout but working on individual resilience alone or individual mindfulness practices are the only half of the equation. It’s like handing a person in a burning building a cup of water and telling them to put out the fire. The stress associated with burnout needs to be tackled at a systemic and organizational level as well. What’s interesting is that passion and purpose-driven roles are often more susceptible to burnout.

In a recent study from Gallup, the top 5 reasons for burnout are largely within the control of the leader: unfair treatment at work, unmanageable workload, lack of role clarity, lack of communication and support from the manager, unreasonable time pressures.

What can you as a leader do?

The title of this post is a dead giveaway but it really does start with compassion in the workplace.

Notice, that we didn’t say empathy. Empathy is very important because it’s the element in you that confirms you are indeed a human and not a robot. You relate to the emotional response of the other. But compassion builds on that empathy and drives to action. An empathetic leader notices what’s happening (they feel); a compassionate leader notices what’s happening and responds (they act).

Recent studies related to compassion have found that this not only benefits the receiver of the compassionate act but also the giver of compassion. Likewise, increased compassionate actions have shown to have a “butterfly” effect organizationally in terms of greater organizational commitment, pride in the organization and improved organization-wide resilience.

Compassion is contagious.

It’s no longer the individual person left to fight the fire with that little cup of water; there’s a firehose to douse the burning building.

Our upcoming webinar on February 20th will dive into the topic of compassion as it may be one of the best sets of leadership behaviours to develop in order to insulate yourself and your team from burnout. This webinar will dive into the specific leadership behaviour that you need to amp up in order to be a more compassionate leader as well we’ll provide some simple tools to consider to build your own compassion practice.