On Monday, Citigroup’s CEO, Jane Fraser, sent a memo outlining new perks meant to curb burnout.
The proposed benefits may help in the short term, but they don’t address the root causes of burnout.
Employers need to get serious about overworking, mismanagement, and pay inequality, experts said.
On Monday, Jane Fraser, Citigroup’s CEO, sent a memo telling staff that the bank would be eliminating Zoom meetings on Fridays and adding May 28 as a mental-health holiday. It was an attempt to curb skyrocketing burnout rates on Wall Street, especially among junior bankers, who, in some cases, are working upwards of 98 hours a week.
In addition to these benefits, Citigroup also added an extra five vacation days and gave workers who’ve been with the bank for more than five years the option to take a 12-week sabbatical. The bank told Insider it also intends to create more flexibility for remote workers moving forward.
The trouble is, days off work and Zoom-free Fridays don’t address the root causes of burnout. Consultants who help firms combat burnout said that to appropriately address the issue, companies need to get serious about the demands they place on workers and how they communicate those demands. Pay equity must also factor into the equation.
ChrisTiana ObeySumner, the founder of Epiphanies of Equity, a consulting firm that focuses on social equity, said the path many firms take is akin to cutting your leg and “putting a tourniquet on it.” It can help the problem, but employers need to tackle the widespread cultural issues that lead to burnout to make a real difference.
Understanding the causes of burnout
Across all industries, burnout rates are rising. A recent Microsoft survey of 30,000 people found that 54% of employees are overworked and 38% are exhausted. Managers in a recent LinkedIn survey reported that burnout rose 78% in the past year.
But it’s not just the pandemic burning people out. Burnout is often deeply rooted in an organization’s culture, said Jennifer Moss, a workplace expert and the author of “The Burnout Epidemic.”
The main cause of burnout, Moss said, is excessive workload, which causes significantly higher rates of stress and poor work-life balance.
Another major cause, she said, is a perceived lack of control over your job, sometimes because of micromanaging.
“We saw some organizations saying that if you’re gone for five minutes that you have to let people know on Slack,” she said. “Basically, that’s the equivalent of raising your hand to go to the bathroom.”
Lastly, burnout is also deeply rooted in inequality. Insufficient rewards for your efforts, such as unequal pay, and a lack of fairness at work are major reasons that people from marginalized groups experience burnout, she said.
“So many organizations are not putting in wage policies. It should be table stakes,” Moss said. “What we do is, we just slap on more yoga over Zoom and think that’s going to solve the problem.”
Asking employees what they need
The first step in addressing burnout, experts said, is actually quite simple: communicate.
Managers need to be asking questions such as “How are you feeling?” and “How can I best support you?” You should make it clear that you want to hear from workers when they’re struggling, said Magalie René, the CEO and founder of Workplace Catalyst, a workplace coaching and consulting company.
“Don’t just assume that they want you to coach them,” she said. “Ask them what they need in the moment.”
To make this communication happen, employees need the freedom to discuss these problems with the expectation that they will be supported, René said.
Leaders also need to recognize that the solution to burnout can never be one size fits all.
ObeySumner, who uses they/them pronouns, said employers need to consider intersectionality, or the different aspects of an individual’s identity that affect how they experience the world. For example, a young Black woman with a disability, who is experiencing systemic oppression on top of the challenges of the pandemic, may need very specific support for their burnout — either through personal check-ins, employee resource groups, or both.
“If you are looking to address burnout in the organization, it’s not universal, not even a little bit,” ObeySumner said.
Ultimately, Moss said, addressing burnout is a matter of empathy. Many people tend to view empathy as “do unto others as I would do unto myself,” she said. But, she went on, empathy is actually about treating others how they would treat themselves, and acknowledging that no two people’s needs are exactly the same.
“The more we can do that in those microtargeted ways,” she said, “the more the culture overall will improve.”