Workday Podcast: Addressing Burnout Risk in 2022
Ross Brooks: Welcome to the Workday Podcast. I'm joined once again by Dr. George Margrove, senior principal psychologist for Workday Peakon Employee Voice, and today we're going to be discussing burnout. George and I will explain some of the theory that underpins burnout, how engagement and burnout are linked, and why it's important to distinguish between clinical and non-clinical burnout. We'll also be sharing some of the findings from our latest report addressing burnout risk in 2022 and what that means for organizations in the foreseeable future.
George, welcome back to the Workday Podcast. Great to have you here again.
George Margrove: Thank you very much. Happy to be here.
Brooks: So today, we're gonna be talking about burnout risk, our latest report, it covers addressing burnout risk in 2022. We'll be covering a couple of the key points from the report. But I think it would be really interesting if we could dive into the theory behind burnout risk and just get a better understanding of that. So to start things off, it's probably useful to define burnout risk. So there's burnout, which is discussed a lot in the industry, and there's also burnout risk, which is our own methodology and the way that we look at burnout risk within Workday Peakon Employee Voice. So maybe you could just walk us through a brief definition of burnout risk and how we look at that.
Margrove: Yeah, definitely. So you're right, burnout is often a term that's thrown around. People use it and they talk about it as if there's just this assumption that everybody knows what it means, but that's not necessarily the case. So people may well have an idea of some of the things that a person may experience when they're burned out, and this may relate to things like, feeling stressed or, having a lack of energy or feeling demotivated, and if this continues for the long term, then there's a chance of more serious mental health concerns around linking to anxiety, linking to depression, sickness absence, and being off work and all those sorts of things. So those are sort of some of the things that people tend to associate with burnout. But if we actually look at some of the academic work around burnout, it's a lot more complicated than that, and there's a lot more potential nuance going on.
Brooks: So talking about the nuances of burnout, maybe if we can dive a bit deeper into what those nuances actually are.
Margrove: Yes, definitely. So probably a good place to start is talking about a clinical definition of burnout. What's interesting about this is despite this being a term that's been used for many, many years, and associated with significant issues as a result of failure to cope with workplace stress, it was only actually relatively recently that burnout was recognised as a clinical condition by the American Psychiatric Association.
So the individual has to be experiencing persistent issues around fatigue, particularly after mental or physical effort. They're likely to be experiencing things like insomnia, difficulty concentrating or decision-making, experiencing pain, heart palpitations, digestive issues, stomach cramps, stomach pain, things like that, and even things like a sensitivity to sound and light. These symptoms need to be present every day or nearly every day for at least two weeks. And the cause is typically to do with workplace stress. So, what we often call psychosocial stressors. So these are features of the environment that are causing the person to feel anxious or distressed over a significant period of time. And typically these symptoms need to actually cause clinical levels of distress or impairment. So you can see that that's quite a number of different experiences which are gonna be quite impactful and negative for the individual concerned. And that's what is called clinical burnout. But actually, often when people say burnout, they're not necessarily talking about something which has been clinically diagnosed. Often they're talking about something which is just persistent experiences, feelings around stress that may not reach the threshold of a clinical diagnosis, but yet they're still extremely impactful for the person, in particular, their relationship with work. So this might be what we would call non-clinical burnout for which the threshold is lower, and therefore, there are more people actually who experience non-clinical burnout.
Brooks: Got you. So it's important to distinguish between that clinical and non-clinical burnout, especially once we get onto the methodology that we use to look at burnout risk.
Brooks: It's important to keep in mind that we're talking about those risk factors and not measuring the actual outcome itself, which would require a clinical setting.
Margrove: That's exactly right. So if we talk about non-clinical burnout, which is effectively what is most relevant to the discussion today and most relevant to a lot of people within a workplace environment, we're talking about things which are to do with experiences around feeling tired. So what is known as exhaustion. So this would be, for example, feeling fatigued or drained, an experience of high workload, perhaps poor work-life balance, a poor sense of physical or mental wellbeing. So a lot of the things that are relevant to how Peakon Workday Employee Voice is already measuring wellbeing in employee surveys. So there's, exhaustion is one feature of non-clinical burnout. Another one is what we call cynicism or depersonalisation. So this is a feeling that the person feels isolated or they're lacking support, or they have a low sense of belonging. So they feel perhaps that they're not really part of something bigger, or meaningful within their relationship with the workplace, which as we know, is often a feature of engagement—people do have a high sense of belonging. Relating to that a low sense of job satisfaction and engagement, and also feeling undervalued or ignored. So basically, the person feels like they're not recognised, they're not part of something bigger. So that's around cynicism and depersonalisation. And then the last one is what we call a low personal efficacy or accomplishment. So this is where the person feels like they're not really achieving very much or they're not really in charge of very much that matters. They might feel they have a low sense of autonomy, a low sense of freedom, they feel a low sense of purpose perhaps in the work that they're doing, or their work isn't very valuable, or it's not very interesting or challenging.
So these three features, exhaustion, cynicism, and low personal efficacy, we can see that they're similar to the ones relating to clinical burnout, but clinical burnout is a much higher level of impairment and level of damage effectively, that the person's experiencing. Whereas non-clinical burnout may well be features that all of us have experienced at one time or another, so we might feel stressed or we might have poor work-life balance, but when those things become chronic, and when those things start to manifest across the different areas of exhaustion, cynicism, and low efficacy, then we can say that the person's probably suffering from impairment around non-clinical burnout, but it's still going to be impactful for them. They're still going to feel negative feelings and negative experiences. They might not want to go into work, they might feel negatively about the thought of going into work and so on. And these are the things that can be associated with low levels of employee engagement and things which put somebody on the path to being at risk for clinical burnout.
Now, something that's really important here, you mentioned it yourself, Ross, is that when we are measuring burnout, and when we're looking at burnout, and when we're deploying tools for that within our employee engagement solutions, we are not measuring or even thinking about clinical burnout because that's a medicalization. We are not in a position to diagnose people. We don't want our customers to try and diagnose people. What we want to actually do is we want to provide information to our customers to understand if their employees are experiencing some of the things that might put them at higher risk of non-clinical burnout, to enable them to take action to support those teams, to put in place the right resources, the right benefits, the right culture to try and support people so that if they're at risk of non-clinical burnout, that can be stopped. And then heaven forbid for it not to turn into clinical burnout, which is not the responsibility of Peakon or other providers to try and diagnose. And those should always be supported with medical professionals and support from doctors and local services and so on.
Brooks: To learn more about how burnout risk is affecting different industries and regions, make sure to download our latest report addressing burnout risk in 2022 using the link in the description below.
That's all really useful context to have, George. What you mentioned there as well, it sounds like there's a strong link between burnout and engagement. And in particular, when we're thinking about how we measure that within Workday Peakon Employee Voice, it'll be interesting to get a sense of how our methodology works, the link to engagement, and in particular, those three factors and how we're looking at them from employee engagement surveys.
Margrove: Yeah, definitely. So I think it's probably worth talking a little bit about history here. So in terms of the history of how engagement has been measured, particularly within employee survey context, there's actually a lot of academic work behind that. And a lot of that actually involves burnout as a really, really core concept in terms of how engagement was measured. And in fact, the measurements of burnout actually predates how we measure employee engagement in current modern engagement surveys. Originally, there were a few different concepts which were considered important within engagement. So one of them was burnout, and that, as I said, has been characterized by these experiences of exhaustion, cynicism, and low personal efficacy. And it was actually felt that burnout and engagement were the same concept, but that they were two different ends of the spectrum. So at one end you were engaged, and at the other end, you were burned out. So effectively, reversing a score of a burnout measure was the same as an engagement measure. So that was one of the very sort of earliest and most influential theories around employee engagement. Since then, thought has moved on a bit into seeing that actually burnout and engagement are two very, very closely linked concepts but they're independent of one another. But they're strongly linked, so it's not just one is the same as the other, flipped around. So that's one aspect of it. There are also other really interesting and important concepts around the history of engagement. Things like flow, which you may have heard of. This is this idea of kind of being in the zone, being emotionally absorbed and time passing quickly when you're doing something that you're engaged with. And that was another interesting concept. And that's used a lot in sports psychology. And then the other main theory around engagement is the one that really turned into how we measure engagement now, which is behavioral. So do people behave in a way that indicates they're engaged? So do they recommend it as a good place to work? Are they loyal, so they don't want to leave and go somewhere else? Do they recommend the products and services? Do they say that they're satisfied in their work? And so on. So that's the way that Peakon measures engagement and a lot of other companies measure engagement. But burnout as an idea has always been there, influencing things in the background. But it's really in a sense kind of been lost from how people measure engagement today within our modern survey industry.
But it's important I think to look at that in the context of how mental health and wellbeing and physical health are so much more important now than they've ever been when we're looking at flexible working, when we're looking at diversity, equity, and inclusion. All this interest in employee wellbeing that perhaps, prior to the pandemic and prior to what's been happening in the last few years wasn't utmost in people's minds. But these are now coming back. And I think this is sort of a really, really valuable opportunity for us to reintroduce measuring burnout as this critical concept from the history of engagement, which is now more topical then ever. So that's one of the reasons why we're introducing this now. We feel it's a really powerful concept. It's something that organizations are interested in. But as I mentioned previously, not necessarily sure what it really means in terms of how to measure it. What's the academic underpinnings of that? So really, that's why we're introducing it, and that's why I'm enjoying talking to you on the podcast about it today because I think this is really fascinating and really important.
Brooks: I agree, it's a really interesting topic. So we're talking about the methodology and the link between engagement and burnout. And earlier, you mentioned the three components. So when we're looking at those three components of exhaustion, cynicism, and low personal efficacy, how are we measuring those within Workday Peakon Employee Voice?
Margrove: Great question. So, one of the things you'll note about those three concepts that you mentioned, they're what we call negatively coded. So what that means is that when the person is agreeing with that thing, it's a negative experience, whereas within Workday Peakon Employee Voice, our questions are positively coded. So when you agree with the statement, it's a more positive experience. So rather than try and introduce questions which are negative, which would be out of step with the way that the rest of the survey works, what we've actually done is we've flipped those concepts around. So instead of the concept of exhaustion, we have energized. Instead of cynicism and depersonalisation, which is around isolation, we have connected. And instead of low efficacy and accomplishment, we have fulfilled. So we've got energized, connected, and fulfilled. So these three concepts are positive things, and they're all things, actually, which we already have multiple questions within Workday Peakon Employee Voice. So this is actually the concept that underpins our methodology. So unlike other versions of this or other additional solutions we have within the Peakon survey, instead of asking new questions like diversity, equity, and inclusion, or wellbeing, and things like that, we're actually reusing questions that people are already asking within the survey. So they're not having to ask additional questions or answer additional questions. So there's no burden on the employee for measuring burnout risk within the solution because they're already answering the questions that are there.
So effectively, we're taking those questions and mapping them onto these concepts to enable ourselves and our customers to get this insight into burnout risk with no effort or cost in terms of time for employees.
Brooks: That's all really interesting, George. So we're talking about using existing questions to measure burnout risk, essentially. Could you go over some of the questions that are actually included in the survey that form part of this burnout risk methodology?
Margrove: Definitely. So for the first component of energized, this relates to things like people being able to manage the demands of their workload, is one question. Having support for their mental and physical health to carry out the job, feeling that stress within the role is manageable, having good satisfaction with work-life balance, and also flexibility within the work schedule. So these questions are drawn from both the core Peakon survey and also some of them from our wellbeing and diversity, equity, inclusion solutions as well. So that would be the energized one. Then we have connectedness. So this is very much around feeling part of something, and also engagement itself is a core concept that underpins this. So we have the engagement questions within this particular component of burnout risk. So would you recommend the organization as a place to work? How satisfied are you? But then also questions like, do you have a sense of belonging at the organization? Do you have mutually supportive relationships? And, do your opinions seem to be valued in the organization? So this is basically all around do I feel part of something bigger, and am I considered someone who is a worthwhile contributor at this organization? So that sense of connectedness. And the last one we have is fulfillment. And this is around people feeling that what they do is valuable, and it has a purpose, and it supports the mission and purpose of the organization. We have questions around the work being meaningful. Does the person have the opportunity to do challenging things at work? Do they have a sense of accomplishment from what they do? Can they use their strengths, and do they see positive outcomes for customers as a result of their work? So you can see that if a person is answering low on these questions, there's a strong tendency for them to feel unfulfilled, disconnected, and low energy, which are the concepts that underpin the burnout risk metric that we mentioned before. And these, these concepts that we're talking about are all highly validated academically. There are burnout risk questionnaires that are out there that are using the negatively coded versions of these concepts that we flipped and that we've interpreted and used for our own questions within our solution. So there's a lot of robust research, a lot of robust data underpinning these concepts.
Brooks: It's good to know that there's a lot of solid theory behind this methodology. Obviously, measuring something like burnout risk, we wanna make sure that we're, we're getting it right, you know? This is employee health and wellbeing at the end of the day. Up until now, we've been talking about theory. And as we start to transition into what this means for organizations, maybe the first thing we could do is look at how this manifests in the workplace. So obviously, we have three different indicators, but I could imagine that someone could have high levels of fulfillment, low levels of energy, and low levels of connectedness, or any other combination of these traits. So maybe if we could cover a few different profiles and what that looks like in employees.
Margrove: Yes, you're exactly right. So one of the things that is an innovation within the way that we're looking at this area is that typically, burnout risk is considered effectively a concept which why it's underpinned by three factors is effectively a unitary concept. So if you're scoring poorly on these three areas, you're at high risk of burnout. If you're scoring well on these areas, you're at low risk of burnout, for example. But you're bang-on there in that people's experiences are much more complicated than that. And everybody's different, and you're likely to have different combinations of these factors where you might be high on one, medium on another, low on another. And these are going to give rise to extremely different personal experiences for different individuals. So let's say, for example, I might be a person who feels super connected with my colleagues and really, really supported. I might feel really fulfilled because the work that I'm doing feels really, really valuable. And I'm getting a great sense of accomplishment. But I might feel super overworked and stressed. So in that case, I have high connection, high fulfilment, but low energy. And that might be someone who's working in a charity or a third sector where they're really feeling what they're doing is valuable, but they're super overworked and tired and low energized. So on a traditional measure of burnout, or burnout risk, they might not necessarily come out as that high risk, for example. But in this kind of more nuanced approach, they have a particular experience which is very, very real for them. You might have another situation where somebody might be, for example, high on energy, they might be high on connection, but they might feel unfulfilled. They have good relationships, they've got good work-life balance, but they feel perhaps the work isn't very meaningful or they're not really using their strengths or don't have a strong sense of accomplishment. Very, very different set of experiences, and a very different daily experience for that person that's very different.
So you've got these different combinations. And one of the things that we're working towards with our solution is not only to give indicators of burnout risk at team level, but it's also to start defining what some of these profiles look like and to actually indicate how many profiles there are within the different parts of the organization, and what the implications of this are for different levels of experience, for different individuals, for different teams to give a much more nuanced approach to understanding burnout risk than has really been done before. This is something I think is really, really exciting, and really, really valuable. I'm sure that the listeners could imagine situations where being high or low on one or more of these different profiles gives rise to a very, very different experience. And we're hoping to include all of this within our burnout risk tools in the future.
Brooks: Definitely. As you said, you can imagine that yourself, your own experience of burnout can be very different. It might just be a case of being overworked or remote working, for example. Flexible working can challenge a lot of people in terms of connectedness. So–
Brooks: --talking about those different profiles then, they help us to identify different ways that burnout risk is manifesting in the workplace, which leads us naturally to what can organizations do about that? So these different profiles are probably gonna have different solutions, but whether or not there are things that can happen at the organizational level, at a manager level, at the individual level, it'd be great to understand some of the ways that organizations can start to address burnout risk.
Margrove: Definitely. You're right. And like with all Peakon solutions, taking action and trying to make improvements is a fundamental part of it, but also, like all Peakon solutions, it's critical to highlight that this data is not presented at an individual level. It's aggregated with a minimum reporting number, so you get team level data so that everybody, every individual person is protected. So with that, we'll be able to see burnout risk scores for different teams, we'll be able to understand how many profiles there are and where those profiles sit without individuals being identified. And like other Peakon solutions, we will have resources and tools within the platform to enable managers to take action against these different areas for the benefit of their team. But what's really nice about this is because we're using questions and concepts which are already part of the Peakon survey, we already have the action planning tools and resources in place for people to take action. So because the concepts are defined by these questions that are already existing. For example, let's look at one of the questions around, “I'm given enough freedom to decide how to do my work,” or “the demands of my workload are manageable,” which underpin the energized section of the concept. If a manager wants to take action to try and support the team on levels of energy, for example, they can do this in a way which they either already might be doing or could do using the standard Peakon action planning functionality that's built into the system. So we don't have to have a whole host of new specialized action planning functionality and additional resources for managers that aren't already existing within the system because it's actually already there, and managers may already be doing some of these. So by linking these to our existing questions, we're enabling managers to address existing issues within their teams about these areas, but also to target specifically areas which are gonna underpin burnout risk in a way that's gonna feel natural to them, in a way that's gonna be consistent with what they're already doing. So that's gonna be really, really powerful, and that's gonna help managers to take action on these areas, but without turning it into a medicalized issue, a clinical issue, which is something that, as we said earlier in discussion, we really want to avoid because Peakon isn't the platform to be using to diagnose medical issues. Instead, that's something very much for doctors.
Brooks: Absolutely. Important to keep that in mind. And because burnout and engagement are linked as well by tackling some of these issues related to burnout risk, using the action planning, you are also eventually gonna start improving aspects of engagement. So obviously, you need to prioritize the burnout risk first, but over time, those same actions will then start to feed into engagement, and really, it's just a continuous cycle, I think, which is really cool.
Margrove: I think you're right. When you said prioritize burnout, I think that it should be equal priority to other things that people are actioning. As I said, just to repeat myself, we've been talking about burnout risk quite a lot, but I think it's really, really important to emphasize we are measuring characteristics which are more likely to put people at risk of eventually having non-clinical burnout, which potentially one day, we don't know, might be clinical burnout. But that's what we talk about when we talk about risk. It's very much early warning, understanding what the circumstances and experiences people are having, and then trying to support them in the moment for better engagement, for better energy, connectedness, fulfillment, increased job satisfaction, and a better organizational culture. And that's what it's all about.
Brooks: Love it. Well, talking about the theory, some of the actions, and some of the different profiles, maybe now we can touch on some of the key findings that have come out of the most recent Heartbeat report just to get a sense of where we are at this point in time, maybe what some of those priorities are.
So the headline finding, just to cover that off initially, of the 10 industries in the analysis, 7 either maintained the same or saw increased levels of burnout risk between 2021 and 2022. And I think probably one of the key themes to mention as well is that there seem to be rapidly declining energy levels across a number of different industries, which in my mind points to the first area of burnout risk that needs to be addressed. In particular, we're seeing this in healthcare, government, consumer, and manufacturing sectors.
Margrove: I really think that makes sense because if we look at what are the questions which are underpinning energized, it's around workload. It's around support for mental and physical health. It's around stress and flexibility. And as we're talking about this period of time between 2021 and 2022, those areas are really ones which are likely to be impacted by changes in workload, by changes in working environment, you know, all the impacts of the pandemic and so on. So that makes a lot of sense.
Brooks: Good to know. It's always nice when the data backs up some of our initial ideas.
Some other interesting findings from the report in terms of specific industries, transportation saw a significant increase in burnout risk. 60% of transportation companies fall into the higher risk category, which is up from 44% in 2021. And that was the steepest increase across all industries in this current analysis. Some others with high levels of burnout risk, government and healthcare saw steep increases as well. 54% of government organizations fall into the higher burnout risk category, and 31% of healthcare organizations had high levels of burnout risk in 2022. I think it's interesting to look at how that contrasts with some other industries. For example, technology and financial services, they have some of the lowest number of organizations with high levels of burnout risk. Technology held steady at 13% from 2021 to 2022, while financial services saw a drop of 2%. So there's actually less organizations with higher levels of burnout risk. And I think this points to the additional flexibility that technology and financial service companies had during the pandemic, for example, in terms of managing workload, which ties into energy levels. They had a lot more flexibility in how they addressed that. Probably easier to stay connected as well compared to transportation. Probably working under quite difficult circumstances, a lot of restrictions, personal protection as well, a lot more difficult to really connect with colleagues, especially if there were fears around COVID.
So I already mentioned declining energy levels. There are also some interesting trends across all of the industries. If we look at some of those we just mentioned, transportation, manufacturing, energy and resources, for example, the majority are gonna have a higher proportion of frontline workers, and you can see in the data that these not only have low energy levels, but they also have relatively low levels of connectedness and fulfillment. So you can really see that pattern again. Government falls into that compared with industries that we mentioned earlier, technology, financial services, professional and business services, life sciences. Life sciences has medium levels of energy, but still relatively high levels of fulfillment and connectedness, because they've been able to work more flexibly. Fulfillment in terms of tackling a lot of issues around the pandemic. I can imagine that would remain quite high. So all of this data is obviously available in the report, and there will be a link to that in the description. So if you wanna learn more, it's all laid out in a really interesting way. There's some really clear graphs we do look at. So definitely check that out.
The final thing worth calling out is looking at the different regions. So some of the specific countries and how burnout risk has changed within those regions. We looked at where companies were headquartered for this analysis just based on how the data is laid out in the platform. But there are some really interesting trends. Australia, for example, saw a significant drop in the proportion of companies with higher levels of burnout risk. That went from 41% to 22% between 2021 and 2022. Germany as well, dropped from 41% to 26%. Whereas, some of the countries going the other way, the UK saw an increase from 37 to 41% of countries with high levels of burnout risk. And Norway as well went from 11% to 20%.
So this is all really interesting, and it's difficult at this point to speculate as to why this might be happening at a country level. In the report, you can get a better sense of why this is happening across industries because we can draw on that engagement data as well. And there are some really compelling patterns there. So again, do check that out. But enough of the data. At this point, it's probably worth mentioning that burnout risk is gonna continue to be a factor in the next few years. Obviously, we've come out of some very challenging times with COVID and events happening around the world. I think that's still gonna be relevant for the years to come. And over time, we're gonna keep working on this data. We're gonna keep looking at these patterns. And as we collect more data in the platform, we'll obviously be able to revisit some of these trends, see how they are trending in future. The point we really wanna get to is to make this data available to everyone in the platform to the point where everyone who is using Peakon can see what burnout risk levels are like in their organization and how they can target that. In the meantime, we have a very talented team of data scientists who can do more bespoke reports around these types of data. So if that's something that is of interest, we'd always love to hear from you. And again, we hope to make this available to everyone in the platform at some point. So George, I've been talking for a while now. Any final points you wanna close out with? If not, it's been a pleasure as always, and some really interesting points as always. But I'll turn it over to you.
Margrove: Thank you. No final points. What you covered is pretty comprehensive. Just, if there's anyone out there who's listening who would like to talk about these issues or to discuss the academics or the background to it, I'd always be happy to discuss. And please, get in touch with me. So thanks very much, Ross. Thanks for having me.
Brooks: Good stuff. George does love to talk about these things. I can attest to that. So please don't be shy. Pleasure, as always. Thanks very much. And until next time.
Margrove: Thank you.
Brooks: If you enjoyed today's episode, be sure to follow us wherever you listen to your favorite podcasts, and remember you can find our whole catalog at workday.com/podcast.