Resilience not enough to combat the effects of burnout

Resilience isn’t enough to combat the effects of burnout, which threatens employee wellbeing and productivity, a world renowned expert on the psychology of work will tell the 2018 Australian Psychological Society (APS) Congress, held in Sydney, 27-30 September.

Dr Michael Leiter, a professor of organisational psychology at Deakin University, says employees are often advised to toughen up to prevent burnout – a special type of job stress characterised by exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy that has a significant effect on wellbeing and productivity – but his research shows the drivers of burnout are usually found in the work environment rather than in the individual failings of employees.

“Burnout is becoming more prevalent as time goes on and it has a lot to do with the intensity of our work environments as people need to perform at such a high level in order to succeed,” says Dr Leiter.

“A lot of the advice that’s given to people is to toughen up and be more resilient to manage these pressures, but it’s not enough. When employees are burning out employers need to reflect on the quality of their workplace and not just tell people to toughen up.”

Dr Leiter says frameworks that encourage employers and employers to work together to enact purposeful change are key to reducing incidences of burnout. “Employees need to be inspired to contribute but at the same time employers need to do things that are meaningful to improve the way employees work,” he says.

He has developed a world first ‘workplace civility’ program that aims to improve the quality of relationships among people at work. The results show civil workplaces experience higher engagement and work quality, and less stress-related absenteeism.

“One of the greatest joys of work is being part of a team that’s productive, mutually supportive and really likes you but, at the other end of the spectrum, dealing with difficult people can be one of the biggest stressors at work,” says Dr Leiter.

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The workplace civility program trains work groups to make a greater proportion of their daily interactions pleasant. People are encouraged to say good morning to each other, refrain from talking over the top of other people and generally reduce inconsiderate behavior.

It might sound easier to simply ask people to be nicer to each other or implement a company policy, but Dr Leiter says both employees and employers need commit to the process.

“It’s not just about employers doing something for occupational health as those programs or policies often fall flat. And you can’t leave it to individuals to be nice to people more often because it doesn’t work that way. Employers need to commit to and encourage employees to buy into a shared vision of a collegiate, civil workplace.”

Professor Michael Leiter will speak about preventing burnout at the 2018 Australian Psychological Society Congress, held in Sydney, 27-30 September.