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There’s Bias in Burnout, and Things Need to Change

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In different workplace settings across the world, the strange and unsettling feeling of exhaustion – known as ‘burnout’ – has taken many workers by surprise. With cases on the rise in our society, following the fallout of a disruptive global pandemic, many have studied the phenomenon of burnout. Interestingly, the problem runs deeper. Burnout is, after all, biased.

After 18 challenging months of navigating a pandemic and its economic and social fallout, the workforce has had to deal with daily life pressures, including financial worries when furlough schemes became prominent, and mental health implications, such as the hardship of balancing work and life at the same time. When these manifest in our daily life, increasingly more people are facing burnout.

It was observed how, according to Mental Health UK in 2021, approximately 46% of UK workers have felt or feel higher levels of extreme stress (when compared to the previous year).

But burnout is not experienced evenly across the global workforce. As employees share their different experiences, this picture of inequality comes into sharper, unsettling focus.

The Burning Issue with Burnout

Life before the pandemic was comfortable for some, predictable for others. But in the fallout, stories of hardship have come to the surface and, dispelled by anxieties over returning the office, certain workers are feeling burnt out.

Those in marginalised groups and minorities are, when compared to other workers, experiencing burnout at a far greater rate. This means these feelings of stress, isolation and exhaustion are intensified for marginalised workers. This could be the result of external factors, like the exposure of violence against the black community in the media, or the sinking isolation from being stuck remotely at home for disabled employees.

Often bias is seen in the singular, understood by the media’s portrayal of social, racial or gendered, or other, discrimination. Bias can even be subconscious – or conscious – but usually it is learnt from somewhere, whether history, childhood experience or role-modelling.

According to multiple studies, both gender and age are significant in determining the likelihood of burnout. From those polled, women and those aged 25-34 are more likely to suffer work-related stress, depression, or anxiety. One study in 2020 discovered how females were on average 33% more likely to suffer from burnout over their male counterpart. This number jumps to 54% when they are aged 25-34. This gap in experiences – where males are less likely to suffer similar feelings of exhaustion than monitories – demonstrates how burnout is biased.

How Burnout Hurts Minorities

For communities of minorities, there are many reasons why burnout is experienced unevenly.

As one such example, representational burnout describes where someone is identified or singled out from an environment lacking diversity, and where they are the only minority represented amongst their colleagues. This might include having a different racial, ethnic, sexual or gender identity. As a result, they may not share ideas, speak up, or communicate as effectively.

Burnout not only intensifies the feelings of stress and isolation, but it also shrinks an employees’ sense of worth and contribution against a backdrop of a busy office that might lack truly effective diversity initiatives and representation.

Contrast Effect

One of the most limiting impacts of bias occurs when it blinds the hiring process. The contrast effect captures this scenario, describing where a candidate is compared based on their interviewing skills rather than benchmarking their skills and qualifications against the job attributes. A fuller picture is unlocked when a candidate is reviewed against the total scope of a job – its description, requirements, and more.

This can be combated with adequate hiring techniques, focussing on eliminating the inviable biases that might be restricting how effectively a business attracts, recruits and retains its diverse pool of talent.

Effective Steps to Bias Reduction

Many companies use diversity and inclusion initiatives to combat bias in the workplace. Bias reduction should – though is not always the case – start from as early as hiring practices, including the language used in job descriptions down to interviewing techniques.

Companies can refocus on how they reduce bias, because sweeping efforts can be less effective than small, but sustainable change. This means starting with your employees, and helping to improve their lives, limiting how they are affected by burnout. But this doesn’t have to be actioned in a silo, where the demand for international HR consulting has only grown in response to building fairer, more productive workplaces around the globe.

Employers can create effective change:

  • Introduce diversity in the hiring process
  • Create a culture of openness, so discussion can break down barriers
  • Educate employees on bias and burnout where possible

Handling Burnout in the New Year

Burnout and bias reduction should be an immediate project, but the New Year can be a particularly pressing time for many minorities. With resolutions and disrupted working schedules, the New Year can be a time of difficulty for many.

Employers should be more sensitive to changes – in both working schedules and the personal lives of their staff. This a strong moment to listen to employees and try to understand the demands they face. An employer can, depending on the barriers an employee faces, help to reduce the risk of burnout by supporting an employee to at least work comfortably.

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