6 Types of Employees with the Highest Burnout Risk

A new report found that agility without resilience is a recipe for burnout. Here are the employees who are most at risk.
By: | September 2, 2019

Inability to focus on simple tasks like answering emails, a lack of focus and dreading work are all symptoms of burnout, a job-related stress condition that is typically associated with millennials.

A Gallup study found that nearly two thirds of full-time workers experience some form of burnout with 23% of employees feeling burnt out nearly all the time and 44% reporting that they experience burnout only some of the time.

This year, the World Health Organization classified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” and labelled it a symptom of chronic stress at work.

“A lot of what we hear about in terms of workplace stress is in a corporate, white-collar environment with knowledge workers,” said Dr. Lucy English, a sociologist and researcher at meQuilibrium.

“We’re really not managing ourselves very well in terms of — we’re multitasking too much. We’re not turning off at the end of the day, we’re not turning off for weekends, we’re not turning off for vacations.”

As burnout continues to be on the rise, researchers like English are looking at its causes and what can be done to prevent it. At meQuilibrium they’ve released a new report on burnout that ties the condition to resilience levels and identifies employee types based on their susceptibility to the condition.

Agility Without Resilience: A Lethal Combination

One of the reports main findings was that burnout was strongly linked to resilience and that agility without resilience could make people more susceptible to burnout.

According to English, resilience is someone’s ability to “manage their mind” by shifting out of stressful reactions and into healthy emotional responses. While agility is a person’s ability to scan their environment and anticipate change.

“People who are sort of constantly scanning the horizon looking for what’s next can be very future thinking, innovative people, but they’re also constantly on alert which is exhausting,” English said.

“If you’re agile and you have that whole forward-thinking skill set, but you don’t have resilience when things go wrong, you’re not able to rebound and recover very well. And so the resilience piece absolutely has to be there or those people burn out.”

This ability to recover from stressful reactions quickly is what makes resilience key to preventing burnout.

“When we’re in stress reactions we’re burning an enormous amount of energy,” English said. “When we spend too much time in those stress loops and don’t know how to get out, that is one of the reasons that we’ll get burnt out.”

The Personas

By looking at employee’s agility and resilience levels, English and her team developed six different personas:

1) Soulful Sufferers: With low agility and low resilience, Soulful Sufferers are the most susceptible to burnout. They have difficulty anticipating changes and when problems occur they are unable to temper their emotional response.

Almost 70% of the group reports feeling a high sense of pressure both at work and in their personal lives. They have a 49% risk of anxiety and depression and, on average they miss about 13 days of work per year.

2) Strivers: English’s research found that Strivers have high agility and low resilience levels, which makes their group one of the most susceptible to burnout.

As a result, this group have a 27% risk of depression, a 54% risk of anxiety, and 66% report feeling more negative emotions than positive ones.

They’re more likely to get frustrated and disengage with their work because of their high anxiety levels and, consequently, many report feeling burnt out.

3) Checked Out: These workers have high levels of stress about both work and money — and very few outlets for healthily expressing their stress.

Nearly 88% of the group reports having no empathy, which makes it hard for them to build relationships with other people who could help them learn to better manage their stress.

Without building relationships and expanding their problem-solving skill set, this low-agility, low-resilience group could easily face burnout.

4) Status Quos: Like Soulful Sufferers, Status Quo workers exhibit low agility and only moderate resilience. They have a low sense of purpose and meaning, according to the report, and 63% have a low connection to work.

While their agility levels are low, they’re less likely to get burnt out than Soulful Sufferers because of their moderate resilience levels. Instead of switching gears when confronted with new problems, Status Quo workers tend to keep everything the same.

5) Stretched Superstars: Like Strivers, Stretched Superstars have higher agility than they do resilience. They’re less susceptible to burnout, however, because unlike the Strivers their resilience levels are high.

English’s study found that this combination of high agility with slightly above average resilience translated to fewer absences and lower depression and anxiety risk than their low-resilience peers.

The group still faces some burnout risks, however: One hundred percent of Stretched Superstars reported work-life balance conflicts.

6) Change Masters: With both high agility and resilience, Change Masters are the group that is least likely to suffer from burnout.

Their ability to both anticipate change and temper their emotional responses translates into strong problem-solving skills and interpersonal adaptability. Nearly 39% of this group are in managerial positions.

Preventing Employee Burnout

Changing corporate culture to foster resilience is one of the biggest ways that English thinks employers can reduce burnout among their employees.

“It’s on the workplace to set realistic expectations and a good sane culture,” she said.

“A lot of organizations are… worried about innovation and so they’re very focused on agility and it’s really important for them to understand that you can’t just develop agility in your employees because without resilience they’ll fall apart at some point,” she said.

In order to help employees develop resilience, English suggests that companies create programs where employees with high resiliency can help those who have trouble reacting to stressful situations.

“We absolutely think that people can learn from each other by collaboration and coaching or mentoring,” she said.

Establishing a language for discussing burnout is another strategy that English thinks can bring awareness to the issue and reduce the stigma many employees feel when discussing behavioral health issues.

“Part of what happens when you learn to understand this stuff is that you become cognizant like ‘oh, you know that person is having a hard time with this, let’s back up and see if we can get the meeting back into a better place,’” she said. “Managers can monitor it, managers can encourage talking about these things.” &

Courtney DuChene is a freelance journalist based in Philadelphia. She can be reached at [email protected].

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