IU professor discusses how to reduce worker burnout
An adjunct professor of philosophy at Indiana University Northwest says while rates of worker burnout are at their highest level since May 2021, the feelings of burnout likely already existed but were only made visible by the pandemic.
Rebecca Armstrong, who recently taught a course on the Gary campus called The Great Resignation: Philosophies of Work and Leisure, said 70% of executives want workers back in the office, but 80% of workers want to at least have the option to continue working remotely.
In an interview with the Associated Press, Armstrong said it’s important to remember that reducing flexibility for workers results in a loss of power and agency.
“What’s shifted here is that the pandemic changed the power balance between management and workers,” she said. “The tremendous loss, for instance, 2 million working mothers just leaving the workplace, because suddenly they had to be at home with their children meant that the law of supply and demand tilts the balance in favor of workers. So, workers seized that new power, and the first thing they wanted was flexibility of where and when to work. So, for them to be called back to the workplace is a reduction in this newfound power.”
Armstrong identifies three observable symptoms of clinical burnout. The first is exhaustion, which could be physical, mental or emotional. The second is a loss of professional efficacy, which she said could be real or imagined.
“In other words, you feel like you’re not doing a good job, even though you may be churning out as much work as before,” she said.
The third symptom, which is less frequently talked about, is a feeling of deep cynicism, which Armstrong said looks like a loss of a sense of purpose in an employee’s work.
To reduce burnout, Armstrong said, employers need to reduce cognitive dissonance in the workplace, where workers are told one thing, but see something completely different happening. That can start with a “rigorous honesty.”
“Executives have to examine the corporate structure, the mission statement, and the policies that go along with it and say, ‘Are we actually including our workers, as legitimate stakeholders in the overall process of this business?’ Because if we are only seeing them as a means to an end, as the feet that move this business, rather than the heart and mind, we are doing them a disservice and they will experience it and the burnout will continue at these very high rates.”