Do wellness programmes actually tackle burnout?

Feb 24, 2021

I, controversially, think they don’t. A business has three main aspects; its people, process and systems, and when we look at tackling burnout, we focus on one aspect, the people. 

Burnout is a symptom.  It is a symptom that is predominantly seen in our people. But it is not the root cause of why people are struggling under so much stress and pressure in the work environment.  Burnout is a sign of an unhealthy organisation, and that means unhealthy processes and systems as well as stressed people. Most of what bogs us down at work are legacy processes and systems that don't work and are no longer fit for purpose.

We've all experienced Expenses processes that take longer and costs more in terms of human hours than most of the expenses themselves. We've all had to navigate bureaucracy and systems that stop agility and delivering true value to our customers.

Now don't get me wrong anything that supports people to get through their days at work in a kinder safer and more inclusive environment is great by me. Companies sending goodie bags out to boost staff morale and to give everybody that fluffy feeling is lovely. But do not let that distract you from the fact that you as a leader will need to do the hard work to identify which process is are no longer working, which systems are not fit for purpose, and which projects or not moving you towards your long-term goals. It's hard work to identify what do you have to stop and radically change. It's far easier to offer free meditation apps massages in the workplace and those wonderful goodie bags we mentioned earlier but it's not going to tackle the root cause of burnout.

So, let's look at each of these and define what tough love leaders need to use to tackle the culture of burnout that is so ubiquitous in our current landscape.

Systems- not only do we all know how difficult it is to implement a new system, but we also know the pain of attempting to use, on a daily basis, systems that are not fit for purpose.

We don't need systems that can do everything, we don't need the best on the market, and there are times when an Excel spreadsheet will do. Platform fatigue and the endless number of systems that we all have to engage with on a daily basis increases our frustration. Couple that with the fact that the move to virtual has made some of the systems we actually need to do our jobs unavailable to us and we have a huge source of stress for our people. So, what can you do as a leader to simplify the systems your people use?

  • The first thing is to step back and assess what you are trying to achieve
  • Ignore the system entirely this is not about the enabling technology it is about what you are trying to achieve in terms of actions speed and goals.
  • Once you have identified what you are trying to need, then you can do the gap analysis between the systems that you do have and what you need them to do.

This is hard work. This is thankless work, but as a leader, if you actually care for and serving your people, it's the thankless and the hard work that will achieve this.

Leaders should not be after glory or recognition. Leadership is a privilege that allows us to serve others, to help them achieve what they are trying to achieve, and the same goes when it comes to running the systems and processes that are needed to support our people.

So, once you've identified the gaps, make the tough call, if the gap is more than 20% stop using the system and find something more appropriate. Slim down the number of communication channels that you use, we do not need to use WhatsApp, MS Teams, Google chat, Zoom, WebEx, BlueJeans, Telegram, Signal the list could go on… all at the same time. Get clarity on what you are trying to achieve with each platform and then pick one and stick with it.

Process - a lot of the time the processes we use were written back in the mists of time. In fact, most of the processes are actually never written down, anywhere, they are just inherited and continued because no one has suggested doing anything differently.

Identifying the processes that are slowing your people down, disempowering them and disengaging them, is a critical part of leadership if you want to tackle the question of burnout appropriately. Process is important, it drives consistency, and it defines exactly how an organisation can work. However bad processes do more damage than they are worth.

We also tend to have far too many processes. We do not need a process for everything. With your team sit down and write down the top 5-7 core processes that you have to have in place for your business to work and then trust your people to figure out how to do the rest in a way that allows them to feel empowered and get the job done.

Your people - yes send those goodie bags, have Wellness workshops, discuss the advantages of walking meetings and standing desks but the real conversations you should be having with your people is how you empower them more.

How can you remove the shackles of bureaucracy and hierarchy within an organisation? How you can enable them to become their best selves at work? How you can give them the ability to define the processes and systems that enable them to be effective in their roles? How can you trust them more?

Leadership is about empowering others to achieve what they want to achieve, to meet their potential. It is not about dictating how to do their jobs.

As you engage with your people to tackle the culture of burnout which exists in nearly all organisations, start to really think about how you make their lives easier.

How do you get faster at stopping things and saying “no”? How do you build a culture where it's safe to express concerns, healthy risks are rewarded, and conflict is celebrated? And therefore, trust is nurtured and celebrated.

Only then will you create a culture where burnout struggles to exist because it's easy to say no, it's easy to stop doing things that do not add value to your business and your customers and it's easy to unite as a team behind one common purpose.


by Helen Honisett

Helen is a seasoned and successful business leader with a rare blend of expertise in learning and advanced technology. Her specialism is in managing and growing businesses through change by leading sales organisations in a way that pivots the whole organisation around the customer.

Helen is the author of the book Defy Expectations, that looks at how leading with love, integrity and trust can build and bond teams much more effectively than traditional methods.  In fact, the methodology described in the book led to a 12% growth in sales revenue and a 2% decrease in overall cost when last implemented. Available for purchase at Amazon

Defy Expectations has created a free online course “Introduction to Love Leadership” to help you transition to a more compassionate and effective way to lead.

Photo by nikko macaspac on Unsplash