Avoiding burnout becoming a cultural norm

You don’t have to look very far to find new research on workplace stress, the decline in work/life balance and the nation’s ‘burnout’. It seems like every week, new headlines reveal that an ever-increasing number of workers are struggling to cope- whilst their personal lives, health and wellbeing suffers.

Despite this research and our knowledge of the fact thatwe are less productive when we overwork, we still don’t seem to be able to change. Why? Well, simply changing our working habits is easier said than done.

The truth is, to make a real change, employers must tackle this as a cultural issue. They must strive to understand and communicate the negativity associated with overworking and do their best to prevent it becoming ‘the norm’.

Just recently I read about a large Japanese advertising firm being fined for violating labour laws- (the same firm that saw a member of staff commit suicide in 2015 due to the excessive hours they were forced to work). I was also shocked to learn that deaths associated with overworking have become such an issue in Japan, that they have a single word to describe them- ‘Karoshi’. This alone demonstrates how culturally desensitised the country is to such a widespread epidemic.

To prevent overworking becoming the norm, the importance of employee wellbeing must continue to rise in all organisations and the old-fashioned perception of ‘those who work longest, work hardest’ must be abolished. If anything, working long days should be frowned upon and recognised as poor practise from the top down.

Employers must have a stronger presence in defining working parameters and conveying to staff that there must be an agreed time when work stops. This may require harsh action such as banning work emails and calls after a certain time to enforce an ending to a working day.

We must also become better at identifying the signs of overworking before they become an issue, whilst managers learn how to best support staff and colleagues to manage their time and reach their targets within the hours of their working day.

We need to be clear about the fact that over working will not improve productivity and businesses must to be brave enough to make leaps in changing working behaviour, by investing in the lives of the people they employ.

Otherwise, the word ‘burnout’ could become the English translation for the Japanese word- ‘Karoshi’.

Jackie Furey- Director of workplace consultancy- Where Workplace Works     

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