Gary Rees Discusses Burnout and Employee Engagement

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    • 00:18

      Normally we consider employee engagementto be the positive side of what happens in business.And burn out, obviously, by definitionis something which is seen as negative,because the last thing employers want is for employeesto burnout in their work.The most extreme form of burnout isthings like suicide, which is obviouslytragic to any organization.

    • 00:40

      The way burn out is normally consideredwhere you have concepts like cynicism, exhaustionand inefficiency where the individual is renderedpretty useless as an employee.And in the worst case, for example,in the National Health Service where the individual cannoteven return to work.They're at that stage of being mentally fraught that theyare literally a spent force.

    • 01:01

      They cannot go back to the type of work.And to me, that's a rather criminal type of activity,because no employer should allow an employee to get to stage.If we flip the side over here, we'vegot employee engagement, which is much more positive.And if you consider the opposite of that,we look at things like energy, efficacy, peoplebeing able to do the work well.

    • 01:23

      And being committed to what they do, how they do it,and deliver good service.So that's what I would call the sort of magic dustthat every organization wants.Often, it's talked about in a very simplistic manner,but to actually achieve employee engagementis almost like looking for the Holy Grail.And every organization is trying to say that yes we are engaged,

    • 01:44

      and we are utilizing our workforce,and we are getting-- we're going to a high level of valueproposition.But not all organizations can achieve that in simple ways.And it's typically the large organizations,which will assess employee engagement levelsand obviously put in interventions and measuresto try and improve those.

    • 02:11

      Well, what I was noticing is that organizations are goingthrough increasing changes.This is around about six years ago.And we talk about work intensificationas if it's a theoretical construct,but the reality is that people are working longer,they're working harder.And I see it more so than ever before.And certainly, impact of technology.And we all do it.

    • 02:31

      We have our mobile phone, We're looking at our emails 24/7.We get email replies from of people at 3:00 o'clockin the morning.And I'm not sure that this is deemed to be healthy behavior.So I noted certainly, the trend two things, one of whichwas individual behavior around peopleliterally working around the clock.And the other thing is, I certainly

    • 02:51

      noticed before the recession, and during the recessionsas well, where organizations are going through constant change.And there wasn't any real controlon how organizations changed.They were simply going through it.And in many cases, going many changeinterventions, and losing sight of where they were going.And if the management feel like that, how do employees feel?So I think it's the context of change

    • 03:12

      as well, in terms of going through these constantand sometimes radical changes, and the employees not evenhaving the opportunity to catch up with where they are,let alone stay with the actual changes.And what I noticed was this sort of contagion.And that links the burnout issue [INAUDIBLE]about well, how much can we sustain?

    • 03:33

      How far can you carry on putting employeesthrough this constant change.And that's what drove me to sort of think about, well,where does the theory come in here?What is the practice?And that started my principal investigationlooking at actual applied research in actual companies.

    • 03:56

      I think there's many levels of why it's important.I think one, which is to do with ethical responsibilityof organizations.And it always incenses me when I hear about organizationsoperating ethical practice, and you see what they actually do.And there are huge contradictions there.And the term duty of care is bandied around far too freely.But organizations have a duty of care to their employees,

    • 04:18

      and they shouldn't treat them as resources whichthey expend to the nth extreme.So I think there's a moral and ethical duty.There's obviously a social duty as well.And I don't think that national economies would do betterwith a burnt out workforce.We have to be able to compete internationally and globally.And to do that, you need to happen and educated

    • 04:39

      skilled workforce.And I believe it's not the measureof how much work people do.So I think there's several levels.And on individual level, just being crude,can an organization afford to have burnt out employees?Consider the medical profession whereyou can take 12 years to get a nurse upto a reasonable standard.And then they are literally stopped in their tracks

    • 05:01

      because they are ineffectual.And that's not necessarily their own fault.So I think there's a commercial as well, as to organizations.And obviously, the common sense angle as well.Why on Earth would you want your employees to be burnt out?What added value does it make to your organization?I think part of the problem is that we'vegot a short-term mentality.And we need to take a much longer-term perspective

    • 05:24

      on how we utilize employees, and have a much moresophisticated approach.But part of the problem, as we are all aware,is that globalization tends to pressures on.Economic costs, employment costs,and various other things, and it drive things down.I think it as a strong global economy,the UK should be mindful of this and say,look, how can we come up with better working practices, more

    • 05:45

      sophisticated, and try and reduce burnout, and nottreat it as if it's a stigma attached to and organization.Every organization will have some aspect of that.It's just the degree to which it happens.Around about the mid 1970s, an author

    • 06:06

      called Martin Seligman did some rather controversialexperiments using dogs.And part of this was to work out at what pointdo they literally freeze in their actions.They were rather cruel.We wouldn't allow them these days.Basically, the concept of learned helplessnesswas basically theorized to say that people get to a state

    • 06:29

      where they're going through constant change,and they literally don't know what to do.And that's the [INAUDIBLE] mind original thinking.And then I started to look at change management.But we haven't seen a huge amount.And I'm applying fairly new ground here,in terms of looking at this from an organizational level,because most of the academic researchtends to come from academic disciplines.

    • 06:49

      For example, psychology looks at the individual level.So you only ever address the individual on the job.What I'm arguing is that burnout could be an organization levelissue, where you may have things like organizational culture,which is pandemic to burnout.You may have infrastructure issuesthat relate to organizational burnout.But no organization would ever want

    • 07:09

      to admit that they have an institutional problemwith burnout.So I'm trying to raise the level to lookat organizational burnout to see exampleswhere that is the case.Rather than worry about is a particular jobmore prone to burnout.But I'm coming from a different angleand there is-- let's just say there's

    • 07:30

      friction in terms of in the academic field consideringa non-individual job level, because it's less scientific.It has less research rigor.So there are the skeptics who believe that this is notthe right research approach.However, if it is pandemic to the organization,why aren't we studying it.

    • 07:50

      To look at it as an individual issuealone is not sufficient enough.I think one of the things that's moreattractive to organizations using the competitive argument.In a global market, you need to have a highly skilledhighly moldable workforce.And to do that, what you would ideally have

    • 08:11

      is engaged employees.So they will be innovative, they'll be creative,they'll look at solving problems,rather than stopping when a problem meets them.And the engagement issue is very strong in termsof saying how do we get more added valuesfrom our employees?And that's not an easy one, because itbrings in leadership style, management style, a whole range

    • 08:32

      of other things.So the positive side is to get engagement up.It sounds like an old song about accentuating the positiveand [INAUDIBLE] the negatives.But what we need to do, is firstlyrecognize that burnout is an issue in every organization,measure it, and then have an interventionto say how can we deal with that?And by reducing burnout, you'll reduce costs and make yourself

    • 08:53

      in a strong position [INAUDIBLE],and it has added value.So it's a bit of common sense argument,but I think it's a strong argument nonetheless.I conducted a piece of prime research on 115 organizations,and some of the results were quite startling.

    • 09:14

      Whilst I can mention company names for obvious reasons, onethat comes to mind which highlights where engagementand burnout [INAUDIBLE] quite strongly wasan organization, large organization, where the HRdirector admitted that there was systemic burnoutissues in his organization.He was aware that there was constant change, strategies,

    • 09:37

      [INAUDIBLE] going on at the same time.And he acknowledged that he just did absolutely nothingabout it.And within that piece of research,I was also a questioning corporate social responsibilityand ethical practice, et cetera.And basically, this senior manager's responsewas, I'm aware of it, and I'm not doing anything about it.And I will not do anything about it.

    • 09:58

      It's the environment that we're living in.And that horrified me to some extent,because this was an organization who had very strong policies.And if you looked at what they saidthey were doing, versus what they were actually doing,there was quite a strong contradiction.So I think there's some obvious parallels hereabout how do we then say, OK, that's the context that we're

    • 10:20

      in.How do we improve employee engagement within that context?So it's all about the negative.It's also about bringing the positive through as well.And there were very little intervention strategieswith this organization.They were going through huge redundancies,there were no [INAUDIBLE] structures.The whole scenario was gloom and doom, but constant change,and with managers that simply weren't coping.

    • 10:41

      And that context might have been truewhen we're going through an economic recession,but I think it's still happening now.So I think all organizations haveto address both burnout and employeeengagement at the same time.I think that there's a huge diversity, and some of it's

    • 11:03

      linked to the size of the organization.Large organizations have infrastructuresthat can help support this.An obvious example would be the staff survey, Q12,and other type of wellness type programsthat companies operate.The cash rich companies can do this.That doesn't say it has any real benefit or it will impact.They have those methods in place.

    • 11:24

      Small, medium organizations, it's obviously much harderto do that.And it depends very much on the history of the companyand what they've done in the past.So I think there is a big differencebetween large and small organizations here.In terms of what companies can do, there's a range of things.And what I would argue is that, firstly, therehas to be a [INAUDIBLE] strategy,which brings in the concepts of well being and wellness

    • 11:48

      to the employees.And that may not be a lavish infrastructure wherewe can offer them sports club membership, you name it.It's about a practical approach towards howpeople are working within the sort of office space,or environment.And often, that's to do with the manager, how the manager treatsthem, how we set up things like performance appraisals--

    • 12:09

      the whole sense of being at work reallyin terms of what are we actually doing.And most small companies will do that as a matter of course.But you need to have some knowledge and expertisehere in terms of how we do it.So what I'm not advocating is a huge structural mechanismto say this is what we need to do.It can be quite simplistic.But I hate to say, often it's as simple as,do you talk to your employees?

    • 12:31

      Do you know what your employees are thinking?Are you addressing some of those issues,or will you just palm it off and say no, that doesn't count.And it's all about that engagement between, typically,the managers and the staff.But the whole of the working environment, to make surethat we have a dialogue.And certainly, my research what we were pointedtowards, where you have, for example, a unionized

    • 12:51

      environment.Engage the unions.If you have works committees, engage them.And it's a simple process of good communication.And it's not the basis that we canoffer people what they want.No, that's not what we're after.It's about listening to concerns,listen to where we can improve upon things,and having a professional approach.And that does require a special type of manager.

    • 13:13

      Because it means that they will have to take criticism,they will have take a [INAUDIBLE] at the feedback.And organizations should look at employing managerswho can do that, and then up the value of the work that'sbeing driven.I think one [INAUDIBLE] would be quite

    • 13:34

      dramatic about the negative side.We've seen some increases in the suicide ratesin some organizations.I was horrified recently.I went to conference, and I spoke to a chief executiveof a French organization.And I said, what's your biggest concern, whichis always a nice question to ask the chief exec.And his response was literally the numberof suicides we've had recently in our organization, which

    • 13:56

      sounds incredibly dramatic.But that is the worst case scenario, really,in terms of what results of burnout can lead to.I'm not suggesting that we end up where there'smass suicide in organization.But I think what we should see isa much more sophisticated approach towards organizationsbeing accountable.And there's certainly no movement

    • 14:17

      with the European Union at the momentto bring in legislation to effect that.But perhaps organizations should startto think about their duty of care.I can't see anything driving that directlyat the moment [INAUDIBLE].On the flip side, in terms of looking at the positive sideengagement, we're seeing some greater understandingof the academic theory.And there's a lot of emphasis now

    • 14:37

      about leadership and engagement.So what practical actions can we thenhave managers to undertake in order to be more effective?And I think we'll see more of that coming through, certainlyin next two to three years.But I don't think there's be anything groundbreaking,because a lot of the approaches arefairly common sense in terms of what is our goal, what we'retrying to achieve, and how we're going

    • 14:59

      to reach that particular path.So I think what we need to see is a much leveled approach.We need to move away from jargon.We need to move away from this one sizefits all, the proverbial magic dust in terms of engagement.And I think what it really requiresis a much greater communication strategyto say, how do we tackle this?It's accept it's there, and move on from there.

    • 15:27

      We're certainly seeing some more interest in the areaof well being.And certainly in the UK and parts of Europe,there are various establishments, committees,et cetera looking at driving this forward.And certainly I've seen a rise of the interest in well being.But well being means many things, and obviouslythe engagement is part of that.

    • 15:47

      But also, burnout can be the flip side of that,where well being isn't being handled particularly well.So again, it comes back to reducing the amount of burnoutscenarios.The area will grow, I think, in the next few yearsin terms of interest, because it willhave some knock-on effects I mentioned before,like the economic effects et cetera.

    • 16:08

      But we're also seeing something quite significantat the moment, which is a change in the labor market.And in terms of the supply and demand of labor,when we're going through an economic recession,the employers have the upper hand in terms of recruitment.That obviously flips when we end up with high employment.And employees are more fastidious,they know which employers they can go to.

    • 16:31

      And employers have reputations.And a lot of that is sourced now through various mediaactivities, via the internet, et cetera.And if an employer is brandished as a bad employer, if they'regood or bad, or whether it's true or not,then that may impact upon their recruitment strategy.So I think there's an issue here about making surethat employees are treated well, but on a longer-term basis,

    • 16:54

      not just for a short period of time.So I think we'll see some changes,but it's still creeping.And none of us can guess what's going to happenin terms of the economy.That could flip in the next year or so,but I wouldn't like to guess.

    • 17:17

      I'm going to change some of the methodology of my research.Most of it's been through questionersgoing to organizations.I now want to drill deeper by talkingto various different functional like senior management, HRmanagement, et cetera, and employees.And going through more in depth interview with them to explore.Because I think some of it's around defining

    • 17:39

      what mean by engagement and burnout,but also to get to their view on,perhaps, how they've been treated,and how they actually operate then at work.So drilling down in terms of some of the deeper issues.And I think that will give them a rich vein of research,in terms of taking this forward.And what I would like to do it thencome up with a range of organizational measures.

    • 18:01

      So in my perfect scenario I'd have an organizational burnouttest that could be applied.We have them applied to individuals.And what I'm trying to do is come upwith some diagnostic tool, to sayhow can an organization do this?The irony is that they banks and the financial sectorhave the financial stress test.

    • 18:21

      And they don't have one for their human resources.Maybe they don't count as much.I don't know.I think the engagement one, it's very straightforward.Because many of my students are post-gradHR managers and the like.And we talk about organizational problems,

    • 18:43

      and we come up with some solutions using interventionslike employee engagement.But they like the aspects that relateto the measurement of burnout.So is there something tangible there?Is it something we need to deal with?How do we categorize it?And then, how do we come up with management interventionsto try and improve upon that?Then burnout one is probably a bit harder.But what we'll attempt to do is link it to occupational stress,

    • 19:04

      and look at stress levels within an organization,and use comparative measures like that.But other area I also bring in isin terms of change management.Because often, you look at change management theory,and they'll say this is the process youneed to follow through.But the reality is often dealing with conflict,dealing with individuals, people [INAUDIBLE] what they'retold to do, et cetera, and having and understanding

    • 19:27

      of the human aspect.So it's tempering that, and a lot of thoseare skills based issues, which again, wehave general management trainee-- general managementstudents, sorry, like in our MBA programs.And they will like that, because it's the reality of change.It's not about a simple change where we'll go from point Ato point B. So there's lots of practical application, which

    • 19:48

      the students really latch into and thenuse it in their own organizationsand get real value from that.

Gary Rees Discusses Burnout and Employee Engagement

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Abstract

Professor Gary Rees discusses employee burnout and employee engagement. He explains how he became interested in this field and how paying attention to it can benefit all employers. Professor Rees also explores the disconnect between what organizations claim they are doing to engage employees and what they are actually doing.

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Gary Rees Discusses Burnout and Employee Engagement

Professor Gary Rees discusses employee burnout and employee engagement. He explains how he became interested in this field and how paying attention to it can benefit all employers. Professor Rees also explores the disconnect between what organizations claim they are doing to engage employees and what they are actually doing.

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