Why Goal Setting May Help Break the Burnout Cycle

Stéphane Fellay | unsplash

Employee well-being continues to be a key area of concern for business leaders. The continued pandemic, workplace changes and issues of inequity have taken their toll, and the mounting damage to psychological safety has become evident. 

We see this damage expressed in rampant turnover (38 million in the U.S. last year), increased workplace absence (8 days per employee related to mental health), reduced productivity (by as much as 35%), low morale and significant signs of burnout (for as many as one in four, the symptoms are severe).

In addition, your younger employees are the most likely to be suffering acutely. Thirty-one percent of millennials and 35% of Gen Zs report having taken time off work to deal with mental health concerns. Nine out of 10 Gen Z workers say that the pandemic has negatively affected their mental health, and millennials are 130% more likely to experience burnout than their baby boomer colleagues.

But it’s not just the general employee population who is struggling under the weight of mental health challenges. In a recent survey, 53% of executive leaders said their mental health is suffering. And to make matters worse, these individuals are often less inclined to speak openly about their struggles. As a result, many high-level leaders now look to mental health chatbots for support.

Learning to live with the challenges of a constantly-shifting world of work is a subject that impacts and concerns all of us.

The Evolution of Employee Support Strategies

Personal well-being is an interconnected matrix involving mental and emotional wellness, physical health, relationships, financial stability, opportunities for growth, and a strong sense of meaning or purpose. That’s not new.

What is new is employees are increasingly looking to their workplaces to provide those elements. And when that workplace fails, the results can be costly. Half of U.S. workers have left a job at least in part because of mental health concerns according to a Mind Share Partners survey — and those numbers are significantly higher when looking at Gen Z (81%) and millennials (68%). Three out of every five employees surveyed believe their employer does not create a safe environment for people who are struggling with their mental health. And 60% say mental health benefits will factor into their next choice of jobs.

So what can we do to lead organizations that support personal well-being?

To better support our people, and to compete in today’s tight labor market, we must rapidly expand benefits like flexible work hours, access to mental health services, wellness perks (like gym memberships and meditation apps), opportunities for social connection, more PTO, and even subsidies to ease logistical burdens (like supplemental childcare, meal prep or house cleaning). We also need to equip managers with better training in the area of mental health support.

“In this moment, when technology allows the demands of work to permeate our lives 24 hours a day, seven days a week, there is a clear case for businesses to build their employees’ skills for well-being.”  McKinsey           

But one of the strongest mental health boosting skills may surprise you. Because if you’re running your workplace right, then it’s already an important part of your process. I’m talking about goal setting.

Related Article: The Cure for Burnout Is Not Self-Care

The Health-Building Benefits of Goal Setting

When goal setting is done right, it can be a powerful mental health booster. Those who engage in the process of formulating goals are proven to be objectively happier. They may also experience measurable therapeutic benefits in the face of mental health challenges.

Here’s what goal setting has to offer — both for employees and leaders.

  • Goals help us find deeper meaning. Goals have the biggest emotional payoff — and therefore the greatest power — when they’re tied to our personal values. When we set clear goals, it illuminates the ways in which our work matters.
  • Goals lead to better engagement. When we dig into goals we care about, they tend to give back to us in return in the form of energy, motivation, focus, creativity and persistence, which leads to more goals and even more progress. And not only do they give us a reason to get up in the morning, they may even help us sleep better.
  • Goals improve our self-confidence. When we set goals, work to achieve them, then see the results, we demonstrate our competence. And that, in turn, builds our confidence.
  • Goals provide constant priority checks. Simply put, goals give us a clear picture of what does and doesn’t matter, helping us to clear our mind of the things that stand in our way.

It’s no secret that the pandemic has accelerated the pace of change in the world of work, but when it comes to supporting mental health, there’s no question that the change is for the better. Organizations that choose to invest in employee well-being will set themselves up to reap a four-fold return on every dollar they spend. But our support strategy should be more than expanded benefits, it must include essential skill-building. And goal setting should be at the top of that list.

Related Article: Employee Experience Is About Work-Life Integration, Not Balance

Paul Pellman is the CEO of Kazoo, an employee experience platform that brings together performance management, recognition & rewards, and engagement surveys in one easy-to-use solution. As a seasoned executive, Paul is committed to giving employees what they need to deeply engage in their work by fulfilling the company’s vision to create rewarding and purpose-filled workplaces where all employees can thrive.

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