Latest trends from Executive Outlook (dip in confidence, workplace burnout and more)

Presented exclusively by Top Office Group, Executive Outlook is known as the “most comprehensive, insightful and valuable study of this region” (for our 11th year running).

We reported last month that our interviews with business leaders reflected a dip in confidence (down from 71% to 56%). We’re optimistic about our fast-growing region, but sluggish growth and geopolitical events are taking a toll. 48% of firms are experiencing skills shortages, with strong demand across trades, technical, sales, and health sectors.

Our survey has also identified a deeper concern amongst 10% of business leaders, centred around workplace burnout, and how to keep their workers focused. This makes sense. Staff lives and relationships are now way more complex, given technology’s role in making us accessible 24/7 (and that’s without aging parents, kids and the chaos of modern life).  Suffice to say, it pays to be on the front-foot on the subject of burnout.

It’s a retention issue, but if we don’t get this right, it leaves our workers vulnerable to burnout.

In 2017, over 75% of business leaders in Executive Outlook felt that our fast paced lives were influencing their decisions. You told us:

“We’re busy being busy. We don’t stop to celebrate the wins”.
“We push and push just doing stuff, but don’t have enough strategic thinking time”.
“We’re on overload, but need space to step back, rather than react”.

These dynamics are now being reflected across our workforces as well.

The World Health Organisation recognises burnout as a “workplace syndrome”, resulting from chronic work stress that hasn’t been successfully managed. Burnout is characterized by feelings of depletion, exhaustion, cynicism and reduced professional efficacy.

A recent episode of Insight revealed there is a “type” that’s more susceptible, notably high achievers and perfectionists, who work hard and smash expectations. When burnout strikes, there’s a mismatch of these values.  The audience reported feeling disengaged, discouraged and losing “the spark”.  Typically, they struggle to focus, or even read in any depth.

It works like this. One day you’re invested in delivering projects, presenting big ideas and making things happen. You’re contributing, connecting with others and leveraging your creativity. It’s why you do what you do.

Next thing you know, you’re lost, overwhelmed and just so exhausted from the relentless churn and pulse of things. You detach from the work you love, and find most meaningful, and can even lose your identity.  You can’t sustain this kind of disconnection. That’s burnout!

The scary part is how the body reacts to chronic workplace stress. Aside from adrenal exhaustion, the research shows that this can affect the very structure of our brain, memory, attention and emotional regulation, with links to depression.

That’s why wellness at work is now a top priority, as workplaces grapple with how to curb burnout (starting with leaders).

Some of us thrive on doing 10 things at once, but we’re pushed to the limit on work/life balance. As leaders, our role is to make decisions on guiding principles (rather than on the fly).  Business leaders in Executive Outlook shared their insights (here’s a few timely reminders):

“We now build time block outs into executive schedules”.
“We create time and solitude to work on (rather than in) the business”.
“Clear emails every day, and use the task-bar”.

When it comes to creating a happy, productive workplace, it’s hard to go past setting clear expectations, along with the resources and training to help your team thrive, a degree of flexibility with hours and social support.

“The well-being of our staff is now top priority”.
“We’ve moved away from the school of sink or swim, to supportive leadership styles”.

An employees perspective…

We decided to put this to our candidates and employees, to seek their views on retention and burnout prevention. So, now for a walk in their shoes…

People leave managers not companies There’s no substitutes for face-to-face interaction and a genuine concern for people (we could talk long before emails).

Share goals and targets It builds commitment. (This is the other extreme) Management puts on drinks and everyone gets together to hear the new vision. Then as soon as the latest consultant’s finished ear-bashing the CEO, the vision’s forgotten forever. People hate this… and expect more.

Recognition You work 12 hour days and land some great new accounts to be greeted by… the sounds of silence.  People need recognition and praise.

Thank you You work back 3 nights running on a tender. You’re not expecting a free weekend at the Coast (although wouldn’t say no). But people do expect their leader to personally acknowledge what they’ve done and say thank-you.

Meetings You break heaven and earth to get there by 8am. Next two people stroll in at 8.15, and the boss forgets he had another meeting and cancels!  Effective leaders walk the talk, and always arrive on time.

Feedback This comes down to letting people know what’s working, what’s not working and how they can improve (but never rely on third party hearsay).

Training “Top performers being poached” is a major threat to business. Training makes the difference. It engenders loyalty and is high on employee “wish-lists”.

Finally, be aware of the pitfalls of multi-tasking.  When we focus solely on what we’re doing, we engage our brain’s prefrontal region (that’s our CEO), and we avoid fight/flight reactions. That’s how we rewire our brains to be healthier and happier, as we launch in 2020.

Compiled by Jan Gadsden, Director and Founder of Top Office Group Pty Ltd and active business leader in the Ipswich Region for over 30 years.  Jan launched Executive Outlook (our annual study with over 100 business leaders and owners) over 11 years ago, and it is well recognised as an authentic barometer of the local employment and economic landscape.