BenchmarkingHR Metrics

Surprising Research on Workplace Burnout and Motivation

Staples has released its Workplace Index 2016 report, incorporating data from over 3,100 office workers in the United States and Canada, roughly 1,700 of whom are business decision-makers. Surprisingly, 38 percent of workers are “very happy” at work, and another 48 percent are “somewhat happy.” Yet 40 percent of those surveyed feel burnt out, and 15 percent have taken a “workplace stress-related leave of absence.” What gives?

The Temperature of Burnout

The report breaks down its data on burnout. For instance, when it comes to drivers of work burnout, 67 percent site their general workload, followed by time pressures (55 percent), manager pressure (39 percent), and job security (36 percent). When asked how their employers could decrease the risk of burnout, they unsurprisingly cited things like receiving a more flexible schedule (63 percent), decreased workload (59 percent), encouraging breaks (52 percent), and improving technology (36 percent). Burnout is motivating 47 percent of employees to seek other jobs, though 68 percent do not actually know if they will change jobs within the next year.

A whole quarter of respondents “always” work more than 40 hours per week, and for 45 percent of employees, the biggest reason for the extra hours worked is that they just had not finished their work for the day yet. However, flying in the face of other research that says money does not buy work satisfaction, 67 percent of respondents said increased salary would improve their happiness. Forty-eight percent would feel happier if they received more recognition for their work.

Finding the Remedy

Disharmony pervades in other areas of the data too. For instance, 65 percent feel they are most productive at their desk, but only 36 percent feel most inspired there. One of the study authors believes what we are witnessing with this data is a gradual shift away from “work-life balance” and to “work-life integration.” Basically, it is up to businesses to give their employees their lives back, so that when they are working, they are doing so in a fully engaged state. But businesses can also take simple steps to making being in the office more comfortable.

For instance, 83 percent of survey respondents feel a well-stocked break room leads to more happiness, and 53 percent believe it contributes to a more social environment. Offices would benefit from more effort put into their overall design too. Only 16 percent of respondents would describe their office as “inspiring,” yet a greater percentage would describe it as “plain” (36 percent) or “dull” (29 percent).

Ultimately, Staples recommends five tips for creating a more productive work culture:

  1. Make the office positive and inspiring.
  2. Design the office with purpose.
  3. Offer telecommuting and sustainability programs.
  4. Combat burnout with an employee wellness program.
  5. Seek out solutions to productivity roadblocks (outdated technology, loud coworkers, etc.).

These recommendations are straightforward, though recommending a wellness program sounds curious to me based off of their own data. According to their research, only 23 percent of workers consider a wellness program to be a definitive selling point when looking for a new job, versus 37 percent who steadfastly say such programs would not matter. Perhaps a majority of employees think of wellness programs as a “cherry on top” sort of thing rather than a necessity.

All the same, yes, it is definitely within businesses’ power to create more accommodating work environments for employees. Whether or not they succeed will dictate if their employees are putting in their best efforts or merely an effort. Which of these propositions sounds better to you?

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