Combatting Turnover, Burnout and Disengagement by Prioritizing Employee Mental Wellness

Chapters that ignite stress and high levels of intensity are inevitable.

office workers
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Many companies are experiencing the intense pressure and stress associated with increasingly high turnover rates. Leaders are spending more and more time racking their brains trying to determine how to build retention rates while maintaining productivity. Money is often the most common motivator, but there is another strong candidate that is often overlooked: employee mental wellness. First and foremost, let's be clear, every individual is responsible for their own well-being. But as a psychotherapist and corporate mental wellness consultant, I believe there are several external sources and past experiences that greatly impact the efforts involved in maintaining self-care and boundaries.

Glamorizing the work-a-holic and constantly operating with a sense of intense urgency is not only igniting anxiety disorder around the nation, but it also is greatly contributing to interruptions in the workplace. This cultural component is incredibly contagious and, unfortunately, is the very precursor to burnout.

Over the last few years, the word 'resilience' has been frequently referred to and discussed. It is often confused with the definition of stamina. Individuals with the highest level of resilience tend to be the most self-aware. They can identify where their limits lie and what they typically need to do or not do to recharge and push forward. The implementation of resets and time allocated for rejuvenation are viewed as non-negotiables and opportunities to re-balance, reflect and improve. They are not associated with weakness or meant to ignite guilt and stress. Life is viewed as a process. One that involves ups and downs, difficult times and times of peace.

Stamina describes the intense effort required during a known duration of time. This time frame provides structure around how long someone will have to endure, work or put forth effort. Take a high-level athlete, for example; there is a start and an end defining how she competes defined by a finish line, quarters or timed halves. This timebox creates predictability and the opportunity to focus on the unpredictable components of the competition. There is a time to prepare, produce and rejuvenate. If this sequence is not honored or consistently executed, injuries can occur and anxiety can surface and sabotage the athlete's ability to maintain presence and deliver.

Being part of a culture that directly or indirectly requires employees to constantly 'be on' and dismiss the components necessary to build resilience and connection is rarely sustainable. When employees are overworked or do not incorporate time for self-care, communication falters, trust is compromised and the ability for employees to work productively is swallowed by the need for distraction and relief.

The million-dollar question is, "How do we create or sustain a company culture that integrates mental wellness and supports genuine connection without blurring boundaries and remaining focused on production?"

The foundational components of any organization are designed and highly influenced by those in leadership roles. Leaders set the tone for all of the eyes and ears observing and decoding what the expectations are and how to operate. How leaders cope with stress, set boundaries with their time and take care of themselves directly impacts and influences the individuals working for them. Reflecting on how they communicate and when they communicate truly matters.

Those in leadership roles who encourage cutoff times and ask about life outside of work emphasize the importance of rejuvenation, time with loved ones and nurturing other roles and interests. Such conversations also provide insight as to how an employee is functioning and if a shift in behavior occurs that needs to be acknowledged or addressed. Educating leaders on signs to look out for and resources to provide their employees is essential for retention and building a culture that supports wellness and connection.

One of the biggest complaints amongst employees is that they do not feel appreciated. Investing time and establishing rapport with those you lead and collaborate with is essential for retention and productivity. Humans are wired for connection and can quickly identify when someone is consistently unavailable or does not value the time required to check in and establish a working relationship. These check-ins need to be consistent and focused in order to be effective. They should encapsulate more than just a 'how are you?' before moving on to the tasks at hand. Using this time to collaboratively identify what's working and where adjustments need to be made not only provides support but also acts as a strong motivator for the employee.

Another area to capitalize on is the onboarding process for new hires. This serves as an amazing opportunity to integrate training sessions focused on mental wellness.

Introducing new employees to topics around self-care, sleep hygiene, personal/professional boundary setting, burnout prevention and effective communication not only categorizes employee wellness as a priority but also provides information and structure on how to implement healthy habits into daily life. Such training sessions will also benefit seasoned employees and are imperative if a team or organization wants to eliminate certain stressors by operating proactively rather than reactively.

Chapters that ignite stress and high levels of intensity are inevitable. Employees will move on for various reasons from time to time and change is not something that can be ignored. Modernizing your organization and how it operates when priorities shift is achievable and you can address the core of what perpetuates the cycles associated with burnout, which ignites anxiety, compromises decision making and creates harmful dependencies. When leaders ignore or neglect the steps involved in generating a healthy culture, they tend to pay the price in more ways than one.

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