A few years ago, almost no one talked about employee burnout. Mental health was just becoming an important topic, and employee well-being was finally getting the attention it rightfully deserves. However, just because there wasn’t a name for it, it doesn’t mean it wasn’t happening. The state we are in now results from years, if not decades, of poor work-life balance, toxic work cultures, and unrealistic expectations. We are now experiencing an all-time high employee burnout rate, especially after the pandemic, and the consequences could be severe- both for the overall state of employees and the company’s revenue and growth. Luckily, this phenomenon can be managed - prevented, dealt with, and almost entirely avoided, and in this article, we will show you how.
What is employee burnout?
Although it is mainly associated with exhaustion, employee burnout is much more. The World Health Organization considers it a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
According to the latest poll, as many as 75% of all employees in the US state that they’re suffering, making this a public health issue. Unfortunately, there is not a lot that an individual can do to create a long-lasting change; the responsibility is on the employer - companies, startups, NGOs, and the government sector.
Since the issue is so severe, a lot of research has been done. It’s been proven that workplace stress impacts mortality and health costs - as many as 120,00 deaths each year. Combining that with a staggering loss of profit that employers face, it is no wonder that employee burnout is one of the biggest issues that need to be resolved.
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What are the symptoms of employee burnout?
Luckily, it isn’t that difficult to determine when someone is suffering from employee burnout. There are many burnout symptoms, and one of the most common ones is the lack of energy and exhaustion.
This often leads to:
- Decreased productivity
- Lack of motivation and dedication
- General distancing from the job, team members, and workplace in general
Although we can’t expect co-workers to always keep an eye on each other, it is the responsibility of the manager to look after their employees and make sure their well-being is intact.
Some signs of burnout aren’t that visible:
- Emotional exhaustion
- Inability to focus
- Decreased decision-making and problem-solving behavior
- Chronic detachment
However, even some issues in an employee’s personal life can be a warning sign of employee burnout.
What causes employee burnout?
Employee burnout can be considered an umbrella term because although it shows fairly similar symptoms, the causes may be significantly different. There are many potential causes of this phenomenon, and if they are combined, the consequences can quickly progress from workload stress to complete detachment and a decrease in performance.
Amongst the most common causes is definitely unfair treatment at work. This is a more significant cause than an overly demanding workload because it isn’t so easily fixed. A toxic work environment that usually also entails bad management, unfair decision, inadequate compensation, and unhealthy company culture is difficult to change. Still, it is also the number one cause of burnout.
What are the consequences of employee burnout?
It might be difficult to draw a straight line from profit loss to burnout, but a line is there nevertheless. It starts with decreased employee engagement. Employees work less, they are in a much worse mood, they don’t communicate nor cooperate the way they should. Work culture gradually declines, employee experience is diminished, and the employees that were doing the bare minimum aren’t now present at all. Increased absenteeism deepens the problem; there are fewer people and more work, the change begins to be visible to everyone, and the impact is worse and worse. This causes more and more people to leave, hence the employee turnover is high and the company’s reputation is harmed. It takes a lot more time to hire and an even longer amount of time to get new hires up to speed. Overall productivity is negatively impacted, and the company is losing money. The bottom line is that when the employee’s mental health is threatened, the company ends up losing both talents and money.
How to prevent job burnout?
Although aiming for no one to be affected at all might be a tad ambitious, prevention can get you far. This is especially true in smaller companies, where decision-making is easier and fewer employees are involved. But if you are a much bigger company, don’t be discouraged. This also probably means that you have more resources and experience, which can go a long way in fixing the issue.
1. Fix the cause, not the symptom
One of the biggest challenges when tackling issues as big as this one is really getting to the root of the problem. Most choose to focus only on the obvious issues and don’t consider how to prevent them from even happening. Let’s say your workers complain that they have a workload that is too demanding. You can either increase their overtime pay, decrease their tasks and leave them undone, or perhaps hire more people. All of that would be valid solutions, and the problem would seemingly be fixed. Until it shows up again and again, and the number of burn-out employees will just keep increasing. What would be a better solution?
Well, first of all, you should try to determine why your employees are constantly expected to perform more than they are physically (and mentally) capable of. That is, certainly, not helping your retention. For example, ask yourself these questions:
- Does this happen when you launch a new project, during certain months, or even specific days?
- Can you hire more people to prevent this?
- Is the issue with the quality of the hire, or perhaps the onboarding training?
Once you figure out the cause and your HR professionals come up with a prevention plan, you will see that the symptoms won’t even show up. And when they do… This is how you proceed.
2. Include your employees in the decision-making
While you are putting bandages on bullet wounds, your employees are taking sick days to browse LinkedIn for new opportunities. Don’t let this happen, and act before long hours finally break the camel’s back! From the very beginning, include them in the process of finding the best solutions to this issue.
Would they benefit from an employee assistance program?
Do they really want to go to another two-day-long team building?
Is time-off a good proposition, or will it just delay the problem?
Chances are their honesty will save your business. So, hurry up and ask them what they want!
3. Think strategically, but act as soon as possible
There is no change to the workplace culture that can happen overnight. Burnout is a serious issue, and it will certainly take time to really see the results of the changes you will create - thinking strategically and consulting your employees. However, while the big picture is still being drawn, you can start with small, everyday changes your employees will notice.
As soon as you can, reduce time pressure on every non-essential task. Include wellness in your benefits package. In fact, revise your entire healthcare policy and make the necessary changes. For example, introduce a limit on working hours, make sure your employees take breaks, and encourage sticking to office e-mails during working hours, even when they have a home office. Set an example with management and closely monitor the results.
Perhaps burnout would still be sneaking in the background without the entire business world staring at it if the Covid 19 pandemic hadn’t hit us. However, the need for the majority of the workforce to use their personal space as a home office has created a certain disbalance in the universe, and many remote workers still haven’t accustomed to the new normal. Since the trend of working from home isn’t going anywhere any time soon, let’s see what we can do to reduce the mental load and the physical exhaustion of remote work burnout.
If you are an employer…
Just because you aren’t sharing a room with your employees doesn’t mean that you don’t dictate almost every aspect of their workday. In addition to implementing the steps we mentioned above, one important distinction for remote employee management is that you shouldn’t model, nor reward, the behavior that leads to work from home burnout. It is typical for employees working remotely to have a blurred line between home and office, causing them to work long after business hours, disrupt their family time, and even days off.
If the management sees them as dedicated and loyal after demonstrating these behaviors, they will continue with them, ultimately leading to work from home burnout. Remote work shouldn’t automatically assume that the employee is always present, and only management attitude and company culture can prevent that.
And if you are an employee…
If you are working remotely, it is crucial for both you and your employer to set boundaries for you to achieve a work-life balance. If you are struggling with this, you should consult your direct supervisors and ask for help and advice. Since surely many colleagues have gone through a similar experience with work from home burnout, they can connect you with someone that can help you or even mentor you through the process.
Some of the things you can do:
- Take breaks
- Walk around
- Leave the house
- Respect work hours of the team
- Don't work outside of office hours
However, sometimes, the issue is bigger than that, and your senior colleagues will help you see the bigger picture and give you some useful tips.
In addition to this, one of the biggest causes of burnout is (bad) communication. Working remotely and never sharing physical space with your colleagues can easily lead to many issues, mixed messages, confusion with tone and intention, and other fairly often communication struggles.
The best way to avoid miscommunication:
- Be direct
- Always confirm the message you get
- Assume your colleagues have the best intentions
- Occasionally take slow, deep breaths before you start speaking or typing
How to deal with employee burnout that is already happening?
Even if you know all there is to know about burnout, you can’t possibly control every single employee, communication, workload, or leadership technique. Furthermore, no prevention you can implement will guarantee that this phenomenon will never appear amongst your employees. So, what to do when you notice it?
First of all, determine all symptoms, consequences, and immediate next steps. Then, figure out what the cause is and include every employee affected in this investigation. Together with your upper management, come up with the necessary steps and ask the impacted employee(s) for their feedback. Always make sure that they had enough personal time to deal with the consequences of burnout. Once you’ve put out the burning fire, it’s time to create a team that will specifically deal with long-term decisions regarding decreasing employee burnout.
How to reduce employee burnout in the future?
It would be absolutely unrealistic to expect this issue to disappear any time soon. However, you can expect it to be reduced way more than 75%. So, who will be the first to do it, and what will they have to do?
For the company to expect a decrease in exhaustion, mental stress, and turnover, the first step would be to assess the current state. No one can know how bad or good things are if there is no data, comparison, or set criteria. Once the status quo has been determined, a plan should be put in motion, considering everything we’ve mentioned in this article and more. And finally, a person or a team that will make sure that every decision is followed through and that employer and employees aren’t going in the opposite direction. Reducing employee burnout isn’t an effort of a few; it’s a task for all, from CEO to interns, from stakeholders to customers. It benefits them all equally, and it helps us create a much healthier company culture, business environment, and the world.