Reducing the Risk of Burnout in Business Services

By Amanda Newfield and Anthony DiRomualdo
November 7, 2023
Season 5, Episode 4

In this episode of the Business Excelleration® Podcast, a discussion of new research from The Hackett Group which looks at how increasing workloads and little to no increases in budget or headcount have pushed staff in HR, IT, finance, procurement and global business services to their limit. The research quantifies the contributors to burnout risk and offers recommendations for how companies can avoid it. With Senior Director Amanda Newfield and Senior Research Director Anthony DiRomualdo.

Welcome to The Hackett Group’s “Business Excelleration Podcast,” where week after week we hear from experts on how to avoid obstacles, manage detours and celebrate milestones on the journey to world-class performance. This episode is hosted by Amanda Newfield, senior director in the HR Advisory practice at The Hackett Group. Today’s episode will discuss their most recent research on how to reduce burnout among staff in business services roles, including human resources (HR), finance, procurement, information technology and more. She is joined by Tony DiRomualdo, senior director at The Hackett Group.

Kicking things off, Tony explains that while the topic of burnout has been a popular discussion point since the beginning of the pandemic, there hasn’t been a lot of research on the subject, specifically in business services. The Hackett Group has a special focus on business services functions and wanted to do a deeper dive to understand what’s been going on with that group. They found that these sectors were especially at risk for burnout for several reasons. First, they are often treated as back-office operations and constantly under pressure to do more with less. The pandemic shed light on how essential these functions actually are. The research aimed to identify the key drivers of burnout on the structural side. From Amanda’s experience, one of the largest drivers for burnout on the business side is the ever-increasing workload without increases in employees or budget.

The Hackett Group recently surveyed over 500 business services professionals about their work environments. Participants were asked to report how frequently they experienced 15 different specific stresses in their work environment. From this research, they found that 36% of respondents were shown to experience four or more of the stresses most of the time, putting them at high risk of burnout. Another 35% reported experiencing one to three of these stresses most of the time. This puts them in the moderate risk of burnout category. Tony identifies the most common drivers for burnout based on the research. The top two were that these groups experienced high-work volumes most of the time, and that there is too much work and not enough time to complete it all. Others include a lack of time for reflection and creative activities, little or no down time, and the pressure to work harder and do more. Fifty-three percent said they have a combination of work responsibilities and coaching others, indicating there are lots of overworked first-line managers.

Next, Amanda speaks to the negative effects of this kind of environment on business services professionals. The majority of the high burnout risk group is putting in more time and completing more work each day than even they did 12 months ago. Thirty-two percent of respondents also reported a decrease in engagement, with 38% saying they were less willing to remain with their current employer than they were 12 months ago. Almost 45% don’t expect their situation to improve and 38% actually expect it to get worse. When asked about how working remotely vs. in office affects their sense of well-being, 79%-81% of respondents reported that working remotely positively impacted their well-being.

Then, Tony shares what respondents would most like for their employers to do to alleviate their risk for burnout. Among their answers was a common theme: transforming and streamlining work processes and deploying improved tech and enabling tools. Sixty-two percent of high-risk groups also ranked instituting meeting-free days. Fifty-seven percent suggested that an increased staff would be beneficial. Finally, 53% indicated they wanted more flexible working arrangements.

In closing, hear recommendations from other research for HR and business leaders looking to create a work environment that is high performing without endangering the physical and mental well-being of staff. First, organizations should begin to collect data to assess the state of well-being within their organization. Next, they should focus on making a business case for increasing well-being. Finally, organizations need to do a better job at allocating work and matching work levels to capacity.

Time stamps:

0:49 – Welcome to this episode hosted by Amanda Newfield.

1:35 – Why The Hackett Group decided to conduct this research on burnout. 

5:05 – The biggest driver for burnout based on Amanda’s own experience.

7:31 – The potential for burnout based on The Hackett Group’s research.

9:35 – The most common drivers for burnout based on the research.

11:36 – The effects of this kind of environment.

14:33 – How does hybrid and remote work affect burnout?

16:22 – What respondents want from their employers.

20:32 – Recommendations from other research to avoid burnout in high-performing areas.