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Resilience alone is not enough to combat the effects of workplace burnout, typified by symptoms including exhaustion and cynicism that lead to diminished wellbeing and productivity, according to an expert psychologist.

Speaking as part of the 2018 Australian Psychological Society (APS) Congress, held in Sydney last week, Dr Michael Leiter, a professor of organisational psychology at Deakin University, said employees are often advised to “toughen up” to prevent burnout yet his research suggests the drivers of burnout normally emerge in the work environment rather than individual failings of employees.

“Burnout is becoming more prevalent as time goes on and it has a lot to do with the intensity of our work environment as people need to perform at such a high level in order to succeed,” Dr Leiter explained.

“A lot of the advice that’s given to people is to toughen up and be more resilient to manage these pressures, but it’s not enough. When employees are burning out employers need to reflect on the quality of their workplace and not just tell people to toughen up.”

Dr Leiter believes a framework that encourages employers and employees to work together to enact meaningful change holds the key to reducing burnout.

It led to him developing a world-first ‘workplace civility’ program that aims to improve the quality of relationships among people at work by training groups to make a proportion of their daily interactions pleasant.

For example, people are encouraged to say good morning to each other, refrain from talking over the top of other people and reduce inconsiderate behaviour.

The results have shown civil workplaces experience higher engagement and work quality and less stress-related absenteeism.

“Employees need to be inspired to contribute but at the same time employers need to do things that are meaningful to improve the way employees work,” Dr Leiter said.

“It’s not just about employers doing something for occupational health as those programs or policies often fall flat. You can’t leave it to individuals to be nice to people more often because it doesn’t work that way. Employers need to commit to and encourage employees to buy into a shared vision of a collegiate, civil workplace.”