By Daniel Greenberg, Partner & Christopher Darroch, Associate Director, Forward Risk and Intelligence
A bevy of articles have been published in the past two years discussing the effects of employee burnout and ways to prevent it. Little if any such writing has been tailored to the world of corporate investigations, but the sector poses special challenges that should be addressed head-on.
Investigative professionals are not usually the first group that the public will think of when discussing burnout. Nowadays, white-collar workers can typically do most, if not all, of their work remotely, or as it is sometimes phrased: “from the comfort of their homes.” At the national level, it is certainly appropriate for the conversation to focus far more on healthcare professionals, teachers, and others facing extraordinarily difficult circumstances.
But if you personally work in the field of corporate investigations, or if you rely on the work of investigators for your business’s success, then the work conditions in this sector are likely important to you. Investigative researchers must contend with tight deadlines, high expectations, and the ever-present knowledge that a single mistake can have deleterious consequences. In short, the conditions for burnout are all present. Fortunately, there are several approaches leadership can take to prevent burnout on an investigative research team.
An investigative researcher who is dedicated and passionate about their job can still burn out if they are overworked. As explained by a May 2021 New Yorker article (“Burnout: Modern Affliction or Human Condition?” by Jill Lepore), the term “burnout” was coined in the 1970s by psychologist Herbert J. Freudenberger, who put in long hours at a free clinic in New York. Freudenberger wrote, “You feel a total sense of commitment… until you finally find yourself, as I did, in a state of exhaustion.”
The previous article in this series discussed how investigative team leaders can mitigate feelings of overwork and burnout by creating a functional work environment, thinking ahead, and setting boundaries. In addition, leadership can consider the following approaches:
MIT Sloan Management Review (“What You’re Getting Wrong About Burnout,” by Liz Fosslien) recently emphasized that overwork was only one of the causes of burnout, with other causes being lack of meaning, feelings of ineffectiveness, and not receiving emotional support. As such, the following points may prove helpful:
Managers typically have a lot of competing priorities and duties and may be tempted to view topics like burnout, motivation, and purpose as something that each researcher should handle on their own. They may think, “if someone is feeling burnt out, why don’t they just take a vacation?” Vacations are one part of the answer but far from a complete solution. Researchers should be energized by their work, not drained from it and in desperate need of recovery time.
In addition, what some managers may fail to recognize is that, while working from home, an already fragile work-life balance can quickly take over a researcher’s life. The lack of the concrete distinction between time spent in the office and time at home leaves some employees in a state of limbo, never fully leaving their workplaces. Managers should regularly check in with their researchers to ensure that their work does not bleed over and dominate their personal lives. Such bleed over will only serve to increase employee burnout.
The benefits from employee engagement and retention vastly outweigh the costs of preventing and mitigating burnout, in terms of both quality of investigative services, and financial considerations. The above suggestions are just a few examples of actionable steps that leaders can take to prevent burnout, although it is a task that is admittedly easier said than done. While this article does not have all the answers, we hope that you found some value in this discussion.
This post is the second in a series about workplace challenges facing investigative professionals and other white-collar researchers, focusing on practical advice and lessons learned from our own experiences. While tailored toward the investigative and intelligence industry, we hope that these articles are also valuable for others in the professional services sector, while also providing a behind-the-scenes look at Forward Risk’s values and operating practices.
If you have any questions or comments, or would like to suggest a topic for further discussion, please email our Partner Dan Greenberg – dan [at] forwardrisk.com.