Construction, Human Resources, and Manufacturing

Employers work to curtail burnout

Companies offer interventions including wellness programs, flex schedules, extra PTO and more.

July 19, 2019
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Burnout Rockford Construction
Employees of Rockford Construction participate in a VTO opportunity to beautify the neighborhood. Courtesy Rockford Construction

In an era when overwork is frequently expected and often lauded, some local employers are rejecting that attitude and implementing programs to curb mass burnout.

A 2018 Gallup study of 7,500 full-time employees found 23% reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes.

The study found the organizational cost of burnout to be “substantial.” Burned-out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 2.6 times as likely to be actively seeking a different job.

If they do stay at their job, Gallup found they have about 13% lower confidence in their performance and are half as likely to discuss and set performance goals with their manager.

Gallup also found the effects of burnout take a serious toll on health, with burned-out employees 23% more likely to end up in the emergency room.

In May, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified burnout as an “occupational phenomenon” and gave it a place in the 11th revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) manual.

WHO defines burnout as a syndrome “resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed” that is indicated by “feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.”

A trio of local organizations — Grand Rapids-based Neuropeak Pro and Rockford Construction, and Rockford-based Wolverine Worldwide — say they recognize the dangers of burnout and are offering programs and policies to prevent burnout and create cultures of wellness.

Neuropeak Pro

Joe Martinez is director of operations for Neuropeak Pro, a company founded in 2016 to help individuals and businesses meet wellness goals and “brain optimization” through strengthening the autonomic nervous system.

Some of Neuropeak’s sports clients have included golfer Bryson DeChambeau, NFL quarterback Kirk Cousins and various professional sports teams. Its corporate clients have included, among others, CWD Real Estate Investment and Windquest, both based in Grand Rapids.

Martinez said Neuropeak practices what it preaches to clients when it comes to wellness for employees.

Neuropeak has 12 employees at its corporate office at 201 Monroe Ave. NW, Suite 300, in Grand Rapids. It shares the office with a 16-member team from its parent company, Neurocore, for a total of 28 people in the office.

Although Martinez said employees were not complaining of burnout, the issue was coming up repeatedly with corporate clients, and Neuropeak wanted to make sure it wouldn’t happen in-house. So, the company instituted a few changes.

“We have a designated time in the afternoon, typically it’s around 2:30 or 3, depending on the day, where we throw out the offer: If anyone wants to do a group meditation session or a group breathing session, come for 15 minutes and do it,” he said.

“(We) sit down and be intentional for a minute, where you’re not doing 100 things at one time. You’re just sitting there, working on breathing.”

He said anywhere from two to 20 people take advantage of that opportunity each day, gathering together in a conference room. 

“That thing in itself is probably one of the most beneficial things we’ve done, just making it a part of our culture and our team,” Martinez said. 

“You’re not a machine that can just go indefinitely without having some sort of side effects showing up.”

Another change Neuropeak made was switching to an unlimited paid time off policy with accountability safeguards built in.

Recognizing some employees might not take any time off under the new system because they might feel guilty doing so or because there’s no use-it-or-lose-it incentive, Martinez said the Neuropeak leadership team instituted ideal minimum time off benchmarks and keeps a running tally of everyone’s PTO usage. At monthly meetings, managers call out anyone who is not staying on pace with minimums for the year and will strongly urge them to take time off to catch up.

Martinez said employees are averaging using about three weeks of PTO per year, not counting holidays, since Neuropeak switched to unlimited PTO.

“There’s a huge difference when somebody goes on vacation and comes back. The energy that’s recharged from most of those people, their creativity is a lot better and they give themselves room to breathe from it,” he said.

“We want you to really get into the work-life balance side of things and not just grind yourself down to nothing because you become a third of what your abilities are if you do that.”

A third technique Neuropeak instituted was asking everyone to maximize productivity by taking enough breaks during their shift. Martinez said several studies have shown that working for about 40 to 45 minutes and taking a 10- to 15-minute break before resuming is the best way to maintain optimal productivity and brain health. The company brought in a pingpong table for employees to use during their break time if desired.

Lastly, Neuropeak, being part of Neurocore, which is a neurofeedback company, asks employees to spend 30 to 45 minutes a couple of times a week running the company’s proprietary software and hardware to do breathing or heart-rate variability neurofeedback sessions on themselves. Martinez said this helps people get in their best state.

Martinez said Neuropeak uses baseline pre-assessments and follow-up testing to check on the success of its wellness practices, and paired with good sleep hygiene, the company has seen the practices cause “meaningful, positive changes” in its employees.

Rockford Construction

Jennifer Boezwinkle, executive vice president at Rockford Construction, said her company has a wellness vendor that comes on-site weekly to meet one-on-one with team members and address everything from smoking cessation to blood pressure management to sleep and nutrition coaching.

Rockford has a lunchtime walking group in which employees walk outside in good weather and inside in poor weather, and it also has a running team, which is made possible by the company providing showers and lockers in the office for convenience.

Members of the construction teams, which can be located at job sites all over the country, are given access to gyms and fitness centers.

Sometimes, the company has done rooftop yoga and kickboxing, and it offers lunchtime chair massages from a vendor, as well.

Infrastructure-wise, the company offers adjustable height desks and a treadmill that has a workstation with outlet power so employees can stay active.

Boezwinkle said Rockford aims to offer “a wide range of opportunities for people to step away, de-stress, be active and stay physically fit.”

Recognizing fitness isn’t the only aspect to preventing burnout, Boezwinkle said Rockford has built into its infrastructure some features that provide comfort throughout the workday, such as an under-floor heating and cooling system that is much cleaner and reduces environmental pollution; plenty of natural light; an internal courtyard and green space for people to work and socialize in; and a green roof for the same reason.

She said the company offers biometric screenings and encourages people to track their own biometric stats daily with smart devices.

The company’s human resources department is trained to recognize conditions that might create burnout, such as health, family or legal issues creating extra stress, and can refer employees to outside consultants for coaching in order to preserve privacy.

In the past year, Rockford noticed employees weren’t taking enough time off, so the company has made a concerted effort to track PTO and encourage employees to use it.

Rockford also offers family time off (FTO) in addition to PTO, which is designed to give people a break to deal with family issues and come back refreshed; and volunteer time off (VTO). The latter is tied to Rockford’s community engagement pillar and allows all 330 employees at the company the opportunity to serve a cause they are passionate about.

She said the company also has cultivated a team environment with plenty of nonwork events and interactions that allow employees to spend time together and get to know each other.

“The better you know your team members, the abler you are to see those signs of stress and then the more comfortable you are to step in and say, ‘How can I help? How can I give a hand to get you through whatever tough time you’re having?’”

Wolverine Worldwide

Dani Zizak, vice president of corporate communications and social responsibility at Wolverine Worldwide, said the company has three main “buckets” of activities relevant to preventing burnout — offerings around healthy working behavior, on-site amenities and charitable, team-based work.

Wolverine promotes healthy working behavior, she said, through offerings such as flexible work schedules, telecommuting, summer hours, career coaching, parental leave, lunch and learn, casual dress and more.

Its on-site amenities currently include dry-cleaning and discounted shipping and printing services for employees; a farmers market; a roving ice cream truck; fitness programs, including biking and running clubs and kickball and volleyball opportunities; and walking and running trails.

The Business Journal previously reported the company also is working on a new facility that will offer child care, dog daycare and a fitness center to the 700 or so employees at its Rockford campus.

Wolverine’s charitable activities, including a United Way partnership, give employees the opportunity to raise funds by participating in outdoor events and activities that promote team building, such as competitive sports, Zizak said. This gives physical, social and emotional benefits to participants.

While there is no one specific individual or department on staff specifically responsible for identifying burnout at Wolverine, Zizak said she believes the company’s leadership and culture place value on the whole-person well-being of employees.

“We recognize this is work that we do, and we’re really passionate about it, but it’s really only a part of their life,” she said.

“It is incumbent upon our leadership throughout the organization to be aware of the potential for stress and burnout and to take the steps to create the microenvironments throughout the organization to prevent that.”

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