It's no secret that the pandemic has affected your company's greatest asset: your employees. In fact, the 2021 Employee Burnout Report by Indeed showed that over half (52%) of employees are experiencing job burnout (as opposed to 43% at pre-COVID levels).
With declining job satisfaction and rising mental health conditions, it's no surprise that 46% of HR leaders say employee burnout is responsible for up to half of employee turnover.
What is Employee Burnout?
According to Forbes, employee burnout is defined as extreme physical and emotional exhaustion. And employee burnout is a specific type of workplace stress, acknowledged even by the World Health Organization (WHO), where workers feel general dissatisfaction with their work and multiple levels of exhaustion, including: mental exhaustion, physical exhaustion, and emotional exhaustion. Signs of burnout include lack of engagement and motivation, decreased productivity, increased cynicism, irritability, poor memory, and increased mistakes.
A survey of 7,500 full-time employees by Gallup found the top five reasons for burnout are:
- Unfair treatment at work
- Unmanageable workload
- Lack of role clarity
- Lack of communication and support from their manager
- Unreasonable time pressure
Just like any mental health concern, burnout presents serious consequences if left unchecked. According to Gallup, employees who are burnout are:
- 2.6 times more likely to leave their employer
- Half as likely to discuss performance goals with their manager
- 63% more likely to take a sick day
- 23% more likely to visit the emergency room
How to Spot Workplace Burnout
Detecting if someone is burned out is even more difficult now that a significant portion of the workforce is remote. However, there are some signs that an employee may be experiencing burnout. These include:
Burned out employees aren't motivated to do anything. They may not show up to work on time or complete assignments on time. They may also skip meetings or avoid taking breaks. With remote and hybrid workers, it can be even more difficult to detect if someone has lost motivation because it's harder to read their body language when you only see them occasionally over Zoom.
Employee burnout leads to poor performance because when employees feel burned out, they don't perform at their best. Teams become less productive and creative, and employees who feel burned out are also more likely to leave their jobs as they become disengaged. Burnout can result from long hours at work, working for a company they don't like, or having too much responsibility.
Increased stress levels
Another symptom of workplace burnout is increased levels of stress, which in turn causes anxiety. This leads to increased levels of stress because of the lack of control over one’s work environment. When employees do not have control over their work environment, we begin to worry about what might happen next. They also can become anxious when they don’t know how to handle situations that arise.
Employees who suffer from burnout often report feeling exhausted, stressed, and overwhelmed. These feelings make it hard to concentrate or focus at work. When employees feel like this, it's hard to be productive, which results in mistakes being made.
When an employee feels overwhelmed or stressed, they often get angry. Some employees will blame others for causing their poor performance. They also have a hard time taking ownership of their work.
Poor decision making
Overwhelmed employees make poor decisions because they don't have time to think about what they are doing, they don't know how to solve a problem, or they lack confidence in themselves. They just react to whatever comes up next or they get caught in analysis paralysis which is a form of procrastination.
In an effort to combat this growing trend, we’ve compiled a list of strategies and tips to help prevent employee burnout in your organization.
1. Implement Employee Mental Health Days
Are your employees having a challenging time disconnecting from work? If so, they're not alone. According to Indeed, 27% of workers are unable to unplug from work, and 53% report working longer hours. With many employees feeling "zoomed out", mental health days are a critical part of your employee wellness strategy. Alternatively, you can offer "no meeting days" once a week to reduce Zoom fatigue.
Make sure your employees use mental health days to rejuvenate and that they use all of their paid vacation days, even if it's just a staycation. With Cooleaf, you can have your staff upload photos of their fun day or have them participate in one of our many wellness challenges! Not only will this enhance team bonding, but your employees will return back to work feeling more motivated.
2. Offer Flexible Work Schedules
Though employees report working longer hours during the pandemic, many remote workers actually feel more engaged than on-site workers. According to Business Insider, nearly 40% of workers would consider quitting if forced to return to the office full-time.
Rather than mandating in-office work, ask your employees what their preference is, and offer flexibility to new hires and current team members. Flexible schedules allow employees to have greater control over when and where they work best, boosting mental health and employee engagement.
3. Create Employee Mental Health Resource Groups
With many employees feeling isolated, it's important to cultivate a work community that fosters trust, authenticity, and belonging. One way to do this is to create an employee resource group (ERG) for mental health. If your organization already has an ERG infrastructure, start the group by having employee advocates partner with HR and Executive sponsors.
If ERGs are new to your company, start small with informal group discussions, educational sessions, mental health MS teams or Slack chats. As your ERG infrastructure matures, gather feedback from the group about policies and practices that can prevent burnout.
To reduce mental health stigma, have sponsors and company leaders discuss their own mental health struggles. Encouraging transparency from the top empowers your employees to bring their whole selves to work and demonstrates to them that the company cares about their employees' well-being, not just their productivity.
4. Encourage Fitness & Mindfulness Activities
With many of us working from home, it can be challenging to stay active. Combined with elevated stress levels and increases in chronic pain and illnesses, taking care of your employees' physical health is non-negotiable.
Rather than simply encouraging employees to adopt healthy habits, take your well-being program a step further by providing wellness incentives or reimbursement for meditation apps, fitness tracking apps, or online wellness classes.
Top companies use Cooleaf to promote employee wellness, encouraging employees to participate in fitness challenges and promoting daily meditation through an app like Peloton or Headspace. As an added perk, employees can earn daily reward points for completing activities that can be redeemed for a gift card of their choice!
5. Offer Autonomy
Autonomy allows your employees to be more flexible and have control over their work.
When you give your employees a choice to choose their work, and the time they'll need to complete it, you will be able to reduce high levels of burnout.
It increases employee engagement and also boosts confidence, but do keep in mind that too much autonomy can be ambiguous.
Providing autonomy will need robust planning that will benefit both the employees and the organization.
6. Create Employee Assistance Programs
Corporate wellness programs can also promote self-care and stress management by providing financial or retirement resources, mental health counseling and diet, exercise and tobacco cessation programs. According to research by Morneau Shepell, every $1 invested in an Employee and Family Assistance Program provides more than eight times the return on investment due to improved productivity and reduced absenteeism. Further encourage a healthy lifestyle with employee gym memberships or group healthy-eating challenges.
7. Enforce Management Training
Managers can be the biggest factor in employee engagement and retention. In a recent Randstad study, 60% of respondents said they had left a job or would leave over a bad boss, with 58% indicating that they would stay at a job with a lower salary if that meant working for a great boss. Poorly equipped managers can exacerbate employee stress and drive them out the door. Managers need to be trained and equipped to coach and develop employees as individuals and as a team. Organizations must ensure supervisors are given employee management tools and skills, which should include appropriate ways to provide feedback, goal setting, communication skills, recognition and task assignment.
8. Create Realistic Performance Expectations
Have you ever had a star employee quickly shift from high-performing to unproductive? One reason many employees become burnt out and turn to ‘quiet-quitting’ is that they take on too much work too quickly.
Have your managers conduct regular one-on-ones and performance reviews so employees feel comfortable communicating with them if their workload feels unmanageable. Having an open-door policy helps managers ensure deadlines are realistic and that roles and expectations are clear and fair. It also helps employees feel supported if a personal crisis comes up and needs to rearrange their workload.
9. Create Goals and Career Paths
According to SHRM, employees cited a lack of opportunity for growth and advancement among the top five stressors at work. In an evolving technological landscape, helping employees obtain new skills can help them adapt to a dynamic market and help them grow their advancement opportunities, inside the company and outside it. Encouraging employees to view stressful situations as a challenge, rather than a threat, can help them rise to the occasion. By setting clear goals together with employees, not only do managers ensure employees know what to expect, but they also can boost employee engagement.
10. Manage Zoom Overload
With a majority of employees now working virtually, many organizations have relied on more meetings, online messaging, Zoom calls and more to stay in constant communication. But that can be exhausting and not entirely productive for many workers.
“It can be draining,” says Robin White, chief people and culture officer of Mailchimp. “People spend a lot of time on Zoom calls–that’s a different type of focus and energy than if you’re in the office.”
11. Try Reduced or Flex Hours
Many burned-out employees cite working longer hours and blurred lines of home and work life as contributors to feeling overworked and uninspired. Experts say reducing hours during the week, or allowing employees to work different or flex hours based on their schedules or desires, can help.
12. Give Group PTO
Although encouraging workers to take vacation days is important, some employers are going further by closing operations and giving their workers a collective break. Companies including Bumble, LinkedIn and Momentive have given all of their workers a week off this summer, hoping to provide them a chance to reset and recharge–without worrying about what’s happening in the office while they’re gone.
A common week off for employees, proponents say, can alleviate some of the out-of-the-office pressures that many workers often feel during a typical vacation.
13. Create a Mentorship Program
The solution to burnout isn’t to ask already stressed employees to ‘fix themselves’. Instead, it’s up to employers to help build strategies at the organizational and team level, while not ignoring factors at the individual level, either.
One powerful option is to put in place an employee mentoring system. Mentoring has been shown to reduce stress and improve well-being in both the mentor and mentee. The former often feels more purposeful, and might have some of their opinions reaffirmed by their colleague. The latter benefits from the advice of someone who knows the organization’s ins and outs, and can help resolve or avoid interpersonal problems.
14. Have Culture Check-Ins
Do you send emails to your team at 11pm? Do you expect them to respond to a Slack message in the minute following? Do your employees often slip into the conversation that they can’t remember the last time they took a vacation?
There’s no doubt that in fast-growing companies, it’s common to glorify a “hustle” or “grind” mentality. But overworking at the expense of your team’s mental or physical well-being will certainly backfire, and companies that create a culture around 24/7 work will see their employees drop off.
But it’s not just imbalanced workloads that lead to burnout. Company cultures that aren’t transparent or that are deemed unfair are also leading causes of employee burnout. That’s why it’s important to:
- Communicate clearly from the top down (no secrets or backdoor meetings)
- Have a clear, fair system around compensation, promotions, and rewards
- Cultivate an environment of psychological safety
15. Conduct Employee Pulse Surveys
You can't manage what you can't measure. Whether you're spearheading a brand-new wellness program or you're a wellness veteran, conducting pulse surveys is an effective way to pinpoint the root cause of your employees' burnout. Surveys ensure you're focusing your energy on the right solutions at the right time.
In fact, not conducting pulse surveys could be one reason why your employee well-being program isn't working! Platforms like Cooleaf offer up-to-the-minute data, expert-designed survey templates and data-driven recommendations, so you can focus more of your energy on what you do best: supporting your people.
And don’t forget what not to do.
The employees’ take on what makes them feel burned out gives us a handy list of the Top 10:
- Asking employees to take on a bigger workload
- Toxic workplace culture that does not stamp out bullying, gossip, oppressive behavior, office politics, and unfair treatment
- Being urged to work faster
- No control over timescales, schedules, workload, projects
- Physical demands, such as sitting or standing all day, walking miles, heavy lifting
- Unclear job expectations and lack of support from line managers, leaders, co-workers
- Being forced to come back into the office
- Lack of work-life balance, such as long hours and weekend working, always-on email and messaging encroaching into personal life
- Geopolitical world events, such as Covid-19, the climate emergency, racial injustices, terrorism
A growing body of evidence sheds light on how burnout and its fallout may lead to costly organizational issues such as attrition. Unprecedented levels of employee turnover—a global phenomenon described as the Great Attrition—make these costs more visible. And as we’ve shared, hidden costs to employers also include absenteeism, lower engagement, and decreased productivity.
We all have a role to play in ensuring that our work environment doesn’t turn toxic. Those in leadership roles can model healthy behavior, sponsor wellness and mental health programs, and guide their company culture in the right direction.