Employee Burnout is Creating a DEI Emergency
It feels like we have all been running at breakneck speed since the start of the pandemic. Keeping our jobs or hustling to find new ones. Scrapping together child and elder care that vanished overnight. Juggling new responsibilities all around to keep everything afloat. Healthcare and safety challenges at every turn.
While traditionally burnout has been kept private and looked at as an individual issue in the workplace - and in some particularly cutthroat cultures a sign of weakness - we now have to acknowledge that it is a widely shared issue. And that it is creating a DEI emergency.
Why? Women and people of color have been hit hardest by the pandemic and are having the toughest time finding relief. Even with offices reopening and in-person school coming back, we are still in the midst of an extremely disjointed process.
It is unlikely that even within one family unit everyone will have school, work, healthcare, and support structures all reopen with consistent schedules. Multiply that by all the other people we interact with in those settings and it is clear why we can’t yet exhale.
[Related: How to Challenge Resistance to DEI Change]
Beyond this, underrepresented minorities - whether the categorization comes from gender, race, country of origin, LGBTQ+ affiliation, disability, veteran status, or something else - are most vulnerable because of the systemic challenges they constantly face, even in the best of workplaces.
Unconscious bias, code switching, fewer networks and support systems, lower pay, tougher roads to promotion, and fewer leaders who represent them to create a sense of security are constant challenges. And create a baseline level of exhaustion.
Chances are you don’t even have a full view of the needs of your employees, especially those who are in the minority in representation and feel the biggest risk in speaking up. It is also important to recognize that DEI professionals are in a particularly challenging position as they are tasked with providing solutions for employees while experiencing many of these challenges themselves.
We are at a breaking point. Senior leaders have to make addressing burnout a priority or employees will have no choice but to leave in order to take care of themselves. That is damaging to them, to you, and to the economy.
As you think about your DEI goals, remember retention is a huge part of that strategy. Focusing on what your current employees need right now - not just putting it on them to figure out but really coming up with creative and flexible solutions - is critical to getting them to stay. Creating safe spaces for these discussions, such as leveraging ERGs and small discussion groups, is critical to understanding everyone’s needs.
This is about reaching out, engaging, really listening, and thinking out of the box about how you can best solve the issues you’re learning about. Go in with a completely open mind unconstrained by resources, budgets, or current practices. You will be surprised what you can come up with that will make a difference. And the retention and engagement you get in return will more than cover any incremental cost to providing different support.
At the end of the day this is about making your employees feel seen, heard, supported, and valued for who they are. That is at the core of DEI principles. This is an opportunity to demonstrate humanity in the face of prolonged adversity. If you are serious about DEI, you cannot ignore this.
Michelle Bogan's mission is to help companies create equitable workplaces. She is the Founder and CEO of Equity At Work, helping leaders achieve major impact through their diversity, inclusion and equity work. Follow her on LinkedIn and Twitter.
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Founder & CEO
Equity At Work
Michelle's mission is to help companies create equitable workplaces. She is the Founder and CEO of Equity At Work®, helping leaders achieve major impact through their diversity, inclusion and equity work. Additionally Michelle is an Investment Committee Member for the Revtech Equity for Women Fund, investing in women-founded, co-founded and led startups in retail technology. She is also on the Advisory Board of Theatro, an AI tech solution for workforce communications. Michelle previously worked at Accenture,... Continue Reading
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