As we begin a new year, businesses, like the people that work for them, often set goals to help them achieve realistic targets. As well as fiscal targets, and analytics goals, companies should consider setting mental and emotional targets for the wellbeing of their employees. And in 2022, we should all be working to reduce biased burnout in our workplaces. But what is burnout?
Burnout is when someone is physically and emotionally exhausted as a result of excessive stress, anger or frustration. The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines burnout in three dimensions:
- 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.
Burnout is an occupational phenomenon but why does it affect minorities more, and why is this?
Biased Burnout: The Occupational Phenomenon
Workplaces are where people with different backgrounds, races, genders, social backgrounds and neurological patterns come together to work, collaborate and share. We spend approximately 2000 hours a year at work, and our lives revolve around it so much. For those who are made to feel isolated or like they are being discriminated against, workplaces can soon become an area where burnout is exacerbated. Of course, an element of stress is to be expected, but everyday stress becomes amplified when someone is already feeling uneasy.
And in 2021, where some people worked fully remote, in the office or a combination of the two, there’s no right or wrong, which makes it much harder for many as they lose face-to-face communication.
Why is Burnout Having a Moment?
The pandemic has made us all slow down, appreciate certain aspects of our life more and make us realise our values. For office workers, where life was hectic and non-stop, homeworking gave us an opportunity to slow down and take time in our days to look after ourselves. Now, returning to offices, these luxuries have gone and made people realise that they were burnt out before, or with the added stress of the ongoing pandemic, are burnt out now.
However, minorities may be living in homes that don’t accept them, or with people that aren’t their family. Lockdowns and remote working are not the solution for them, and it’s massively affected their lives. Similarly, festive periods can be hard for people in various difficult situations. Coming back into work may be a relief but veiled in anxiety over discussing difficult family situations that are hard to work towards.
Minority Group Burnout
Those in minorities were – and are – starkly more affected by burnout than their cisgender, white, male, or straight colleagues. According to an SHRM study by Judith Honesty and David Maxfield, “66 percent of the people they spoke with said the biased treatment they experienced had a large impact on their morale, motivation, commitment, and desire to advance in the organisation.”
Minority groups contribute to companies in incredible ways, not only by giving unique perspective, but with different creativity, alternative thinking patterns and so much more. Having a variety of different voices in any workplace makes for a rich and empowered workforce. Yet in so many minorities in workplaces, people can feel isolated, left out or marginalised, leading to increased burnout.
How can workplaces reduce burnout amongst minority groups
There are a few core themes around reducing burnout with minority groups. It begins with communication, then action, and finishes with engagement.
Communication to reduce burnout
How does communication reduce burnout? Burnout can happen when employees feel like there is a lack of communication that specifically affects them.
This could be caused through certain biases, where someone is isolated due to them being a minority. For example, someone who is neurodivergent (dyslexia, dyspraxia etc. all come under neurodivergence) may feel isolated by a lack of communication, as they often need more explanation in simpler terms to make it clear. However, some people take this as a sign of simplicity, and treat them patronisingly.
Therefore, to reduce this aspect, you could communicate with everyone as you would for neurodivergent people to ensure you are communicating fairly, and not isolating anyone. Your HR team should be leading this charge, and communicating with people on a case by case basis if needed.
Action reducing burnout
Reaction, which has long been the ‘easy way out’ for diversity and inclusion, can last no longer. Instead, action is now the bare minimum.
But how can you put this into play? Here are some ways:
- Remove dress codes that exclude natural hairstyles and tattoos. While some may see these as unprofessional, for certain minorities, their tattoos and hair are important in their cultures.
- Allow for flexible working hours. By not including these, you exclude those with disabilities, working parents and more. These flexible hours should also include flexible locations, whether that is at home, in the office, or a blend of the two.
- Blind hire from CVs with no personal data on. This allows you to focus on the experience and skills of a person, rather than their name, location or appearance.
Engage with employees to reduce burnout
As part of your action and communication, it’s imperative that you engage with all employees to make them aware of what needs to change, and how they can achieve this.
There’s a range of online activities, which employees can do themselves, but the best change comes about when we all work together and engage.
You can create focus groups, to allow people to share feelings in a safe place with other like-minded individuals. This may enable people to share feelings they may not feel comfortable doing so elsewhere.
Activities that you could organise in groups, or with departments could be:
- Using the LeanIn resources on gender bias to spark discussion. These can be found here: https://leanin.org/50-ways-to-fight-gender-bias
- Allowing people to ask questions without fear of judgement. Open discussions around sexuality, self-identification, and individuals struggles all really help to encourage conversations about how we can all work to reduce bias, without making it really forced and clinical. By creating a no-judgment space, people can ask questions without fear of retribution or like it is a stupid question. It’s best for a question to be asked than for people to sit in silence.
- Ask people, if they feel comfortable, to use their pronouns in their email signature. This means that people show their identity easily, but by not enforcing it, it doesn’t pressure people into coming out earlier than they want to.
- Use gender neutral language across company messaging, unless referencing a specific person. By using they/them across messaging, you reduce the risk of someone feeling isolated by only using he/she pronouns.
Author: Kitty Bates, HR writer at IRIS HR