Being in the workplace as a minority, whether that’s based on gender, sexuality, race, ability or ethnicity, has been shown to lead to increased burnout when compared against cisgender, heteronormative and white male workers. With burnout increasing more this past 18 months thanks to balancing a global pandemic, homeworking, an ‘always on’ society and hyper-connectivity in and out of the workplace, it’s no surprise workers across the board are experiencing burnout like never before.
The State of Burnout
As we now near two years of pandemic related restrictions and a way of living different to what we are used to, it’s important we recognise the state of burnout currently.
Data from the COVID-19 Social Study by University College London shows that people in younger age groups, those with children, with a household income under 30k annually, women, ethnic minority groups and those with an existing physical health diagnosis currently experience higher rates of depression and anxiety.
US studies from McKinsey and Lean In shows that there has been a 10% increase in burnout when compared to pre-pandemic, with 42% of women surveyed saying they feel burnt out “often or almost always” in the 2021 report. Over the same period, men reported a 4% increase.
Biases in the Workplace
Traditional biological based bias is rife in the workforce, and women are regularly withheld promotions, access to career progression and job stability as employers are concerned over losing them on maternity leave and childhood responsibilities. This uses a preconception that all women want children and will be the primary caregiver in their family.
For those who identify as anything but straight, using heteronormative terms such as husband and wife can feel isolating. Assuming someone’s relationship based on their gender presentation can be a micro aggression that members of the LGBTQIA+ community feel on a daily basis. The other preconception that someone saying they are not straight and a colleague or manager immediately presuming they are 100% gay is a frustration.
And racial bias, where people of colour are told how good their English is, or when they’re asked where they’re from and when an answer isn’t a seemingly far-flung country, have that question repeated. Then there’s generational trauma, where historic racial abuse and deep-rooted segregation carries trauma through families and communities.
All these biases, coupled with disheartening coverage in the media, constant discrimination, micro and macro aggressions inside and outside the workplace make the existing workplace burnout problem exacerbated when compared to cisgender, white and heteronormative males.
What Employers and HR Professionals Need to Do
No longer is a publicly facing policy and tokenistic posts on important holidays deemed enough. Instead, companies need to be active in their bias reduction.
Learnt bias, such as ones that have been passed down through families or spread by the media, can be undone through education. And change doesn’t have to be major. A wide array of micro changes can make all employees feel more welcome on a daily basis, rather than large overarching changes, which may not make any day-to-day impact.
Create Auto-Responses on Slack
For terms such as ‘guys’ which isolates anyone who doesn’t identify as male, you can create Slack auto-response that when specific terms are used, returns a response suggesting a more inclusive term. This reduces the awkwardness of someone having to ask to not use a specific term.
Act on Employees Fears, Worries and Struggles
Rather than simply responding, showing change and acting on it signals you care. For example, if a black female employee came to a HR representative showing signs of racial burnout after a shooting or an act of violence against their community, working with them to accommodate their requests and helping them to manage their workload does more than putting a message out on social media.
It shows you are invested in them and their struggles rather than caring about the way the company is perceived externally.
Track Salary and Promotions on Multiple Factors
In smaller companies, comparing promotion and salary can be hard as there is less like for likes. However, in companies where multiple people do similar roles and should be on matched progressions, it’s important to compare factors such as race, ethnicity, gender self-presentation, and sexual orientation as part of this, if the employee wishes to declare.
This can help HR professionals uncover conscious or unconscious bias in teams. For example, if a specific manager is only promoting certain groups of people, then a problem arises that can be solved.
Encourage Switch Off Times
In calendars, out of office times can be set and this should be encouraged. For example, if a deadline is tight, then encouraging employees to set a do not disturb message will help them to separate this. And when out of the office, enforce switch offs. This can be by not allowing communication platforms such as Teams or Slack on personal phones or setting companywide do not disturbs after office hours. It’s key to set this boundary from a management level, so ensuring managers respect this and honour their team’s personal time is incredibly important.
Reduce Bias to Reduce Burnout
While each employee and their circumstances are different, it’s important to work with them to ensure they are in a workplace that respects them and their individuality in this process.
Burnout can be mitigated and prevented in workplaces that honour their employees, resulting in increased employee wellbeing and retention. Focus on these key factors to mitigate biased burnout:
- Listen to your employees’ needs and act upon their requests to drive real change in your organisation
- Take into consideration factors outside of the workplace that may be affecting your employee’s mental wellbeing and taking up headspace
- Implement smaller changes to create a larger shift in workplace culture