The #1 Cause of Employee Burnout – A Toxic Coworker - American Society of Employers - Mary E. Corrado

Of Interest…

The #1 Cause of Employee Burnout – A Toxic Coworker

McKinsey Health Institute recently conducted a study on the effect of toxic workplaces and how they affect employees. They talked to nearly 15,000 employees and 1,000 HR decision-makers across 15 different countries. Toxic workplace behavior stood out as the primary catalyst for negative employee outcomes, such as burnout and the desire to quit.

Toxic behavior in the workplace is like a wrecking ball when it comes to how employees feel. It's the main reason people start feeling burnt out and start eyeing the exit door. Toxicity doesn't just affect the person it's aimed at. It's like a bad cold that spreads to everyone nearby. These negative vibes seep into the whole work environment, dragging down morale and infecting others with the same toxic mindset. It's like a domino effect of bad attitudes. And here's the scary part: Being around toxic coworkers can even turn you into one yourself.

Humans are wired to pick up on the emotions of those around us. Have you ever had a coworker come in all stressed out, and suddenly you're feeling the same way? That's emotional contagion at work. It's like catching a bug, but with feelings instead of germs. And it happens lightning fast, without us even realizing it.

The impact is heightened when considering the emotions of a leader. Research in social psychology indicates that emotions tend to spread more easily in relationships where there is a power imbalance, such as between managers and their team members. Besides the natural tendency for individuals to unconsciously mirror each other's emotions, employees actively seek to synchronize their reactions, moods, and emotions with those of their manager—whether positive or negative, constructive or detrimental. A recent study conducted in Denmark revealed that managers not only pass on their stress to employees but also that this stress contagion effect can persist for up to a year.

If your boss is constantly stressed or negative, chances are you'll start feeling that way too. And if your whole team is caught in a cycle of stress and negativity, it's a recipe for burnout.

Burnout also spreads like a virus. It spreads from person to person, dragging down productivity and sucking the joy out of work. It can start with just one person, but before you know it, the whole team is feeling the effects.

While burnout may be felt on an individual level, its root causes lie in systemic imbalances within organizations, particularly regarding job demands and resources. Therefore, employers need to recognize high rates of burnout as a glaring indicator that it's the organization itself—not just its individual employees—that requires significant systemic change.

Addressing Burnout

Effectively addressing burnout necessitates a holistic approach that tackles both toxic workplace behaviors and the restructuring of work to foster inclusivity, sustainability, and support for individual development. This includes enhancing the adaptability skills of both leaders and employees. It entails reevaluating organizational systems, procedures, and incentives to reshape work dynamics, job expectations, and team environments.

Attempting to alleviate burnout solely through superficial measures, such as wellness programs, is unlikely to yield success. McKinsey’s findings reveal that improving other organizational factors, while neglecting to address toxic behavior, does little to alleviate reported levels of burnout symptoms. Conversely, when toxic behavior is minimized, each additional intervention serves to mitigate negative outcomes and enhance positive ones.

So, take a moment to think about your own workplace. Are people generally happy and upbeat, or is there a cloud of tension hanging over everything? Emotional contagion is real, and it's powerful. And if you're surrounded by negativity day in and day out, it's only a matter of time before it starts to wear you down.

How do you address toxic behavior and burnout in your organization? Email me at [email protected].


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