NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Corporations Combat Employee Burnout

May 4, 1999

Headquarters executives at some corporations are taking steps to combat potential employee "burnout" by stressing the need for employees to take some time to address their own personal and family needs. An overworked employee, they fear, loses creativity and, in some cases, even the ability to contribute at all.

Human resources personnel report that burnout has become the most urgent topic at their meetings.

  • Alarmed by reports that professionals and managers are often working 48 and even 55 hours a week, some companies are initiating strict 40-hour per week policies.
  • Another tool is to encourage employees not to check their e-mail and phone messages over the weekend.
  • Employees at Hewlett-Packard are asked to set out three business goals and three personal ones, and when a staff member achieves a milestone -- such as leaving at 2 p.m. to take a daughter ice skating -- fellow employees are encouraged to applaud.
  • Research indicates that as people work over a certain number of hours, productivity goes down, errors increase, stress goes up -- and companies begin to pay out more in additional medical claims.

In Silicon Valley, where 16 hour days are the norm, Sun Microsystems has developed a buddy system under which programmers monitor each other for overwork. "That way, if someone disappears into his office for a few days, someone will go rescue him," explains Sun's chief engineer, John Gage.

The company has also hired what Gage calls "get a life" counselors, whose job it is to coach code writers on the joys of the real world -- sunlight, bike riding, children.

Source: Leslie Kaufman, "Some Companies Derail the 'Burnout' Track," New York Times, May 4, 1999.


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