…and Why so Many People are Unhappy at Work
A few weeks ago, I received an invitation to be on a Fast Company podcast, “The New Way We Work.” Sure, happy to do that! Well, it turned out that our episode – “Beyond burnout: Why so many employees are unhappy at work,” was a live recording of the podcast. On stage. During the Fast Company Innovation Festival. In New York.
Oops. Not what I signed up for. I have not left California since the pandemic. Do I even remember how to travel?
Well, it was worth it. Kate Davis, the host, asked great questions, and my co-presenter, Phoebe Gavin, was brilliant. Just hearing her sort “Quiet Quitters” into “Clandestine Coasters” and “Balanced Boundary-setters” would have been worth the trip (38:00 in the podcast). And that was before she described two other types of employees. “Strategic Strivers” go above and beyond at work – and are rewarded. “Exploited Employees,” however, are not rewarded for their exemplary efforts – and are set up for burnout.
What a brilliant classification! It also helps to explain why so many people are burned out – and some are beyond burned out. A healthy organizational culture would aim to maximize the percentage of “strategic strivers” by offering fair rewards for hard work. It would also respect “boundary setters” as long as they accomplish the necessary results, carry their weight, and do not turn into “coasters.” However, in extractive organizational cultures, the implicit mindset is to have the highest percentage of exploited employees possible. Over time, this damages trust and pushes the previously engaged employees into quitting, setting boundaries, or even coasting. To make matters worse, the normal, healthy human response of quitting or holding back when not treated well angers managers in unhealthy cultures – instead of creating more positive work environments to inspire employees, some organizations double down on command, control, and management by fear.
This resonates with another point discussed during the podcast – the recent rise in the rigid return to office mandates, surveillance, and management by fear following the Great Resignation might be construed as the Great Retaliation against employees (36:15 in the podcast). What organizations need, however, is the Great Recalibration – a growing understanding that both employers and employees benefit from organizational thriving and sustainability. They are on the same side, and zero-sum, winner-take-all game is the wrong framework for the employment relationship. Sustainable organizations understand that human sustainability – employee health and wellbeing – is an integral part of organizational health. Check out Kate’s article with some highlights from our session – and listen to the full podcast here Apple podcasts and Google podcasts. The detailed guide to the podcast segments (below) should help you find specific questions and topics.
The Innovation Festival hosted many remarkable sessions on innovation, diversity, creativity, labor, and much more. With presenters such as the US Secretary of Labor, Martin Walsh, actress-turned-food-activist Jennifer Garner, company founders, and union leaders, this truly was a 360 representation of current trends in the workplace.
0- 3:00 Welcome and season preview
3:00 Episode introduction
4:35 – 7:05 What burnout is and is not, and how to address it
4:40 – Phoebe: are you tired or are you tired of it?
5:35 – Ludmila: Burnout as human sustainability
7:05 – 18:30 Addressing burnout based on the level of severity; individual and organizational responsibility
10:00 – Phoebe: Burnout vs. dissatisfaction and disengagement. The role of managers
13:28 – Ludmila: the role of psychological safety and manager vulnerability in preventing burnout
15:19 – Phoebe: psychological safety and manager vulnerability
17:43 – Kate: manager vulnerability and humanity.
18:30 – 24:55 What changed in the last couple of years?
18:28 – Ludmila: humans facing mortality, and discovering better ways to live
20:15 – Phoebe: looking for deep causes of our misery; re-evaluating employer quality
21:45 – Kate: re-evaluating the hustle culture
22:30 – Ludmila: “Who brainwashed me?” “Was hustle culture a manipulation?”
23:47 – Phoebe: hustle culture and brainwashing.
24:55 – Return to office and flexibility- the impact on burnout
25:15 – Ludmila: flexible hours only go so far if your choice is WHICH 70-80 hours/wk you are going to work. The REAL deal is manageable workloads
26:45 Kate: flexibility and overwork, Microsoft study
27:17 Ludmila: Burnout vs. moral injury, energy problem vs. ethics problem
29:50 Kate: disconnect between your job and your purpose, performative “values”
30:44 Phoebe: disconnect from your values vs. conflict with your values
31:50 Phoebe: imposter syndrome; employees gaining power in the last few years
34:22 Kate: autonomy and tracking software
35:00 Ludmila: employee tracking and motivation, trust vs. tug-of-war between employers and employees
36:15 Ludmila: from Great Resignation to Great Retaliation?? What we need is Great Recalibration. Zero-sum game is a wrong framing for employee-employer relationship.
37:19 Phoebe: solution to poor performance is not surveillance, it’s curiosity.
38:00 Phoebe: “quiet quitters” term confuses 2 types of employees: “clandestine coasters” vs “balanced boundary-setters.” There is nothing wrong with setting boundaries.
40:00 Kate: surveillance is measuring the wrong thing. We need evaluation by results.
40:45 Phoebe: to change the culture of burnout, leaders need to learn human-focused skills and be accountable.
43:03 Ludmila: To prevent and alleviate burnout, companies may not need to add things/programs. Try subtracting unnecessary meetings and tasks. If that fails, perhaps hire more employees.
44:25 – wrapping up.