Preventing Burnout: A Focus on Improving Work Life Quality

(6 min read)

Missed deadlines. Reduced productivity. Increased client complaints. High turnover. Your employees are displaying signs of burnout… how should your company respond?

Like many organizations, your business may have established a wellness program to improve employee health. Perhaps you’ve engaged in thoughtful benefit design to help recruit and retain high-quality employees. Unfortunately, none of these initiatives have proved to be quite the silver bullet cure-all that you’d hoped for.

Worse, some initiatives don’t simply fail to serve as stand-alone solutions. In many cases, along with being ineffective, they’re also costly and time-consuming.

But burnout is a real — and growing — issue for employees and employers alike. A recent Gallup poll found that 67 percent of employees experience burnout on the job. Of these, two-thirds are more likely to take sick days and are over 2.5 times more likely to actively seek other employment. Burnout is costly, too; each year, physical and psychological issues related to burnout result in up to $190 billion in healthcare spending, says the Harvard Business Review.

And employers aren’t immune. Managers, supervisors and administrators face growing levels of on-the-job stress, as well. Studies link excessive work stress to a number of undesirable outcomes, such as bad decision-making, poor health and aggressive leadership, according to Forbes.

Fortunately, a solution may lie in the expansion of a 2008 framework developed by healthcare industry researchers. Known as the Triple Aim, the framework is based on three goals: improving population health while enhancing the individual patient experience and reducing per capita costs. Since then, the Triple Aim's guiding principles have been widely accepted across the healthcare industry.

However, recent studies indicate that the Triple Aim lacks a crucial component — a focus on the job satisfaction of industry employees and staff.

A growing chorus of voices now conclude that an organization with a demoralized workforce simply can't meet goals. Some suggest that the solution lies in adopting a fourth focal point — a so-called “Quadruple Aim” — that addresses work life quality. The Quadruple Aim offers a path to both decrease employee burnout and improve job satisfaction.

A Missing Component: Work Life Quality

The healthcare industry’s adoption of the Triple Aim framework can serve as a guide. Many healthcare organizations around the world adopted an approach centered around the Triple Aim’s focal points: cutting costs, improving patient care and improving overall health. But after a decade of practice, a common theme emerged: The stressful nature of employees’ work lives hinders organizations’ ability to achieve their goals.

In order to effectively achieve goals, organizations need a productive, engaged workforce. However, any approach that doesn't provide workers with the opportunity to find their work both meaningful and satisfying is bound to fail.

A solution lies in the adoption of a fourth aim, focused on improving the work life of employees and employers.

Burnout and Job Dissatisfaction

How prevalent is burnout? With more than 75 percent of full-time workers reporting burnout at work, it’s safe to say that burnout is prevalent across industries. Research indicates that chronic job-related stress and adverse working conditions lead to feelings of exhaustion and negativity, decreased commitment to clients, and dissatisfaction with job performance.

Psychologically, burnout may result in overwhelming emotional fatigue, lack of energy, feelings of cynicism and inadequacy, poor coping skills, and lack of productivity. Physically, burnout has been linked to obesity, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders and increased consumption of alcohol. Studies also suggest that burnout is a predictor for a number of health problems, including type 2 diabetes, heart disease, gastrointestinal disorders, headaches, fatigue and higher mortality rates among those under age 45.

According to the Harvard Business Review, top causes of workplace stress include overworked employees and too much focus on collaboration. Gallup research adds unfair treatment at work, lack of role clarity and poor communication from management to this list.

  • Overwork. Across industries, workloads have increased without proportionate growth in in hiring. In many cases, leadership’s expectations that digital solutions will take up the slack are unfounded. When a workload is unmanageable, employees feel overwhelmed. Even high performers can feel as if they’re mired in quicksand, just struggling to stay afloat. This sparks a vicious cycle, in which employees’ confidence in their own ability to perform drops, thus causing even more dissatisfaction with job performance. Ironically, top performers are often the most overloaded, as managers place ever more work on the most capable.
  • Collaboration overload. With collaboration a major focus at many companies, it seems that a continuous stream of meetings are needed simply to ensure that all stakeholders’ voices are heard. In many cases, all of these meetings come at the expense of time for employees to work creatively. For many managers, the pressure to collaborate also manifests in too much time spent communicating through digital means. Multitasking and fragmented schedules eat away from otherwise productive time.
  • Unfair treatment. Staff who feel they’re treated unfairly are far more likely to experience symptoms of burnout. Whether the treatment stems from bias, unfair compensation policies, mistreatment by co-workers or supervisors, or favoritism, poor treatment at work breaks down trust between team members and increases stress.
  • Unclear roles. Gallup polling finds that 40 percent of workers don’t have a clear picture of what’s expected of them on the job. When expectations and roles are constantly shifting, employees experience stress and grow exhausted.
  • Poor Communication. When managers don’t — or can’t — clearly communicate with employees, workers are left feeling alone and unsupported. Research indicates that employees who feel supported are 70 percent less likely to experience burnout symptoms, underscoring the importance of clear, consistent communication.

Steps Toward Finding Satisfaction in Work

When employees and employers are overworked, dissatisfied and stressed, they're less likely to be engaged and productive. This underlies the critical role that a satisfied, supported workforce plays and highlights the need to focus on work life quality.

How can organizations help employees find meaning and satisfaction on the job? The Quadruple Aim offers a solution: Focusing on staff satisfaction, supporting resilience, improving engagement, increasing retention and enabling employees to find "joy in work.

This means creating workplace conditions in which employees are supported and respected, feel safe, are treated with dignity, aren't stretched thin, and have the resources they need to do their jobs. At a practical level, leaders can take the time to listen to employees when they talk about what they value and what they want to achieve; after all, they know the workplace best. Use their feedback to make changes that support organizational goals. This means involving employees at all levels in efforts to encourage open communication, increase engagement and create buy-in to common goals.

While there’s no one silver bullet, shifting to a focus on work life quality provide the opportunity for companies to navigate, coordinate and evaluate existing resources. Using the Quadruple Aim model to help both employers and employees find joy in their work has the potential to help your company better meet its goals.


Scott Foster is CEO of Wellco. Scott is a frequently-invited expert and speaker regarding well-being, engagement, & leadership.  Wellco provides award-winning solutions to measurably improve health experiences & outcomes. For more information, contact Wellco. 

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