As a young team leader, it was difficult for me to understand family life. Having no kids, I could spend a lot of my time and energy on work, since my evenings were free of responsibilities. Having no personal experience, I had no idea of the chaos and amount of work awaiting a parent, especially mothers, on return to home after a day at the office.
Also, luckily enough, not everyone has experienced firsthand the mental mental burden of having to go through a divorce or a family member falling seriously ill. Big life changes always affect your work too and can take away, for a long time, the joy and satisfaction you experience in your work.
Someone in a leading position can, of course, have a family and big challenges in life too; we all know life can be hard sometimes. This does not mean, however, that all managers understand why burnouts happen. We’re all individuals, we do not react to the same issues in the same way. To enforce the argument, I’m sure everyone can think of someone they know who seemingly navigates through life without appearing to experience significant amount of stress.
What are the consequences of having a boss who never seems to be stressed out?
It can lead to behavior such as mine as a young leader without kids, not being empathetic enough to understand how strongly and wholly stress affects both free time and work.
Whether or not a manager experiences stress themselves, s/he has the duty to actively observe employees to see if the burden is getting too big. If signs appear, the first step is have a discussion with the employee in question.
The Finnish Occupational Safety and Health Act No. 738/2002, Section 8, describes the employers’ general duty to exercise care: ‘Employers shall continuously monitor the working environment, the state of the working community and the safety of the work practices. Employers shall also monitor the impact of the measures put into practice on safety and health at work.’
But how do you define and measure the issues employees find stressful? Moreover, which of these can be argued to be issues the employer can control?
The employer has control over many things that can cause stress, such as company culture, salary policy or physical environment
The most important issues in this respect are equality, integrity and the sense of fairness. Equality needs to be understood broadly, consisting of gender and salary equality, equal opportunities for career advancement and raises, and fair division of tasks and responsibilities.
It is also the duty of the employer to ensure that there is a fair balance between a job description, the skills and competences of an employee, and the objectives of the employer.
Without a doubt, providing a safe and suitable physical environment for the job required is the responsibility of the employer. There are many issues to consider, but let me raise one: In the open office plans of today, is enough consideration taken to secure an environment devoid of disruption and noise for work requiring concentration?
Company culture, ways of working and organizational structure are defined and controlled by the employer, having a big impact on the well-being of an employee.
It is also the employer’s responsibility to continuously monitor the work atmosphere among the employees.
Not all factors related to well-being can be expressed as clearly set rules: The boss just needs to stay alert. Minea Ahlroth, who has studied harassment and discrimination at work, writes:
A manager has the duty to mingle with the employees, taking the pulse of the organization and making note of the different emerging signals. (Ahlroth et. al. 2015, 90)
What if the employer does things by the book? All structures, salary policy, positions and ways of working are fair. The atmosphere is good, for the most part the staff seems to like both their work and the workplace. The employer can not detect shortcomings.
Being responsible for your own well-being is not a choice, it is a must
An employer has a huge responsibility for their staff. They are required to create a workplace that promotes equality and enables employees to achieve a successful work-life balance. A forward-looking employer supports an individual in many other ways too.
In turn, the employees need to tell when things are not going well.
Everyone able to take part in working life has the responsibility to take care of themselves and their own well-being.
Why? Because an employer cannot know everything that is going on in one’s life. No matter how good the employer, they cannot optimize the work conditions for everyone, let alone their life outside of work. Everyone’s life has shorter or longer periods when one’s mental load is bigger than the opportunities for recovery.
And what is the role of the employer?
What are the responsibilities of an employer to support an individual’s search for balance? The best results can be achieved by the employer supporting the individual in the measures s/he has chosen. If there is a need for some days off or shorter workdays or weeks, there should be a way to try and find an optimum solution for all. Personalized options are the key: Even longer breaks during workdays can have a significant effect on productivity.
The goal is common
The employer and employee should work together to prevent chronic stress and often long absences due to burnout. A single burnout is a grave symptom and requires immediate actions in the workplace. The reputation of a company can be severely impacted by its employees going public about their stress and lack of well-being.
Both employees and companies have the common goal of preserving health, attaining a positive mindset and longevity of life. Employees with a healthy work-life balance help companies and organizations to prosper. A happy and healthy employee spreads positive attitude around him or her. In the end, it is, for example, our families who emerge as the ultimate beneficiaries if our well-being at work is taken care of.