Burnout: The Mental Stress Side of Sustainability

This post is part of a year-end series by MBA students at California College of the Arts’ Design MBA Program. Read more about our annual partnership here.

By Audrey Ma

Tired? Irritable? Overworked? Dreading Monday mornings?

You may be experiencing the modern phenomenon of job burnout.

Mayo Clinic explains job burnout as “a special type of job stress — a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.” Sounds awful. But unfortunately, because of today’s cutthroat competitive job market burnout is plaguing the American work force. Caused by various factors including “dysfunctional workplace dynamics, unclear job expectations, and mismatch in values,” burnout is side effect of today’s work/life imbalance.

We hear a lot about “green” and “sustainability” efforts, a trend that quickly embedded itself into our basic vocabulary. But these initiatives mainly focus on economic or environmental issues. What about mental, emotional and psychological sustainability? Companies are downsizing and demanding higher levels of productivity from their drained and exhausted workforce. Increased workloads and stressful job environments undoubtedly wear on an individual’s overall quality of life. When the average American spends a minimum of 9 hours at work each day, we should begin to address how work dynamics affect the depletion of our most valuable resource, the human mind and body.

After four years in the corporate world, I have first-handedly witnessed the negative byproducts of job burnout, clearly evident in both my coworkers and myself. My design team of six has survived several rounds of layoffs and we have proudly stayed intact, but the lack of headcount and support has had damaging consequences. Our skeleton crew accepted heavier workloads, which in turn compromised creative brainstorming time, and thus less innovative solutions. We became an automatic machine, churning out sub-par products to meet deadlines. We no longer felt intimate or passionate about our work, a lose-lose situation for the employer and its employees. Sadly, this may be the case amongst many American companies.

So where do we begin to address this issue?<

Shiftalliance, a consultancy from Seattle, WA, specializes in developing the framework for psychological sustainability in the workplace deemed “meaningful business design.”

“A workplace infused with meaning contributes greatly to psychological sustainability and ultimately the larger sustainability agenda. The element of psychological sustainability allows us to think even more holistically about sustainability and expand the nexus of consideration even further, not outward but in the other direction – inward. Psychological sustainability adds the internal dimension of people within the commonly accepted triple bottom line equation of people, planet, profit by considering mental and emotional sustainability in the workplace.”

Therefore, employers must begin to factor in each employee’s physical, mental, and emotional well being into their overall business and sustainability models. These modifications will provide essential long-term benefits for the company as a whole.

Shiftalliance works closely with business executives to redefine organizational structures to include a variety of distinct better practices for creating meaningful value for workplace sustainability. These methods intend to cultivate a collaborative environment where employees truly feel fulfilled by their work. In essence, to stop the cycle of employee burnout and to maximize productivity levels (beneficial for both employers and employees) we must examine the ways in which companies can inject meaning back into their business so that their employees are deeply connected to the purpose of their labor.

These articles were created as part of the course work for “Live Exchange” the foundational course on communication for The MBA Design Strategy Program at California College of the Arts. Read more about the project here.

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