We have gone through many different phases and trends when it comes to human productivity. Companies have used financial incentives, employee empowerment/recognition, employee ownership schemes and many other tools to try and maximise human productivity. As salaries have risen over the past decades, the need to extract maximum productivity out of our human resources has become ever more important.

All our gains in understanding of what drives human performance are under the threat of collapsing if we don’t wrap our heads around the latest trend: burn-out.

Burn-out is an emotional condition. It often has very little to do with how much we work, and all to do with how we work, and even more importantly, how we feel about our work and our lives in general.

Of course, it is much easier for CEOs and HR managers to stick with the tangibles of remuneration – working hours and company structures – than for them to wade into the murky waters of the emotional well-being of their workforce. However, what recent trends have shown is that the biggest barrier to getting the best out of your team is the prevalence of burn-out and pre-burnout situations.

The symptoms are everywhere; increased levels of anxiety, higher levels of staff turnover, increased levels of sick leave, employees leaving jobs they would otherwise be happy with, people literally leaving the workforce completely for several months just to physically recover from burn-out.

Yet even when symptoms are not chronic, the effects of burn-out are huge for human productivity. Issues with memory, trouble focusing and lack of motivation are just some examples that can really hinder an employee giving their best at work.

It is crucial for companies to understand why so many employees are getting to the point of burn-out if they have any chance of supporting them properly and arresting the decline in productivity, for the sake of the employees individually and the company as a whole.

In fact, as Simon Sinek pointed out, “if you don’t understand people, you don’t understand business”.

One of the biggest factors in pushing people towards burn-out is the sense of not-coping. Our modern lifestyles have placed ever weightier burdens upon the individual. We have taken our incessant need to ‘achieve’ and applied that same goal orientation to our personal lives. This, coupled with work environments which are often dominating and toxic, have left many people feeling that they are in a fight they have no hope of winning.

This mental and emotional strain leads to a crisis of the nervous system. We are not designed to be in fight or flight all the time. The lack of rest and recuperation plays a serious role in disturbing hormone function and leading to chronic fatigue, adrenal fatigue, depression and other health conditions.

Our youngest generations have often been maligned for being too idealistic and entitled when it comes to their aspirations for work and work environment. However, perhaps their desire for more work-life balance, and for work that contributes to the well-being of the ‘whole person’ is actually based in a deeper understanding of what we need as human beings to facilitate us being able to perform at our best in the long term.


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