Employee burnout. We all hear about this new workplace epidemic, but what is it? It can show up with physical, mental, and emotional symptoms. You might feel exhausted, depressed, irritated, and critical. There may be a disruption to your regular sleep. Headaches? Upset stomach? It could all be related to burnout!
“Burnout doesn’t always look the same, but the one sign that I think more people should pay attention to is lowered immunity,” says Kyle Clements, CEO of Quipli. “Stress takes a toll on our bodies, and often presents itself as a frequent illness. Many employees, especially with remote work, will attempt to push through and “persevere,” making burnout worse.”
A Gallup study showed 23% of employees feel burned out often, and an additional 44% feel burned out sometimes. Because of this, companies are realizing that it can lead to dips in productivity and retention, and it can eventually cost them more in high healthcare bills.
To prevent employee burnout, you’ll need to understand what causes it. Most employers believe it’s caused by unmanageable workloads—and yes, high workloads are a contributing factor to employee burnout, but they’re not the only cause. Other reasons include:
One of the biggest issues facing employees today is a lack of communication and support from their leaders.
“Making sure your staff feels supported by management should always be a priority,” says Alysha M. Campbell, Founder & CEO of CultureShift HR. “This involves checking in with them from time to time, actively listening when they have something to say, providing feedback on their progress, or offering additional training when necessary.
The feeling that leaders are disconnected from their teams can have a huge impact on overall morale, motivation, performance, and productivity. Leaders should make sure they’re providing open lines of communication with their teams, offering feedback regularly, and showing appreciation for hard work.
Leaders may be unfairly distributing workload, leading to additional stress for employees who fear saying “no” to additional work that is beyond their capacity or high achievers who pick up the slack of less competent teammates. This can have serious ramifications for an organization’s ability to retain key talent.
Employees who feel like they’re not being treated fairly or respectfully will quickly become disengaged and unmotivated. It’s important for employers to ensure that all employees are treated equally and with respect, regardless of gender, race, or other factors. Additionally, employers should ensure that any grievances are addressed promptly and professionally so that employees feel heard and respected.
Unreasonable deadlines can put a tremendous amount of stress on employees and often lead to burnout if not addressed properly. It’s important for managers to consider not only what needs to be done but also how much time employees have available before setting deadlines. Additionally, managers should be willing to adjust deadlines when necessary due to unforeseen circumstances or external factors beyond an employee’s control. Employers should provide resources such as flexible work schedules or additional help so employees don’t feel overwhelmed by tight timelines.
With more people working remotely than ever before due to COVID-19 pandemic-related restrictions, it has become increasingly difficult for workers to draw clear boundaries between home life and work life. The increasing pressure to answer texts or emails outside of work hours can create stress as employees can no longer disconnect easily.
This lack of separation can lead to increased stress levels and eventually burnout if not addressed properly. Employers need to recognize this issue as a real problem for their workforce and take steps such as limiting after-hours emails or providing additional mental health resources through an Employee Assistance Program (EAP).
A lack of autonomy is a big contributor to burnout. When an employee doesn’t have the ability to make decisions or choices involving their work, it can be extremely difficult to maintain motivation and enthusiasm. Without certain freedoms like being able to determine the speed of a task, the type of work they do, or how tasks are prioritized, employees may begin to experience a sense of helplessness that can quietly take its toll over time.
It’s impossible to be successful at a job if you don’t know what’s expected of you. Unclear job expectations often cause an employee to feel overwhelmed and confused. Professional burnout is more than just feeling really tired or overworked – it’s the result of constant stress and pressure, so being unsure of what your job entails can set the stage for this type of exhaustion. It’s important for leaders to communicate clearly with their employees about what is expected of them for success.
Employers should focus their philosophy on prevention—and you can start during the onboarding process, when the employee is still learning about the company’s culture, alleviating the factors mentioned above can reduce the likelihood that burnout will occur.
Many employees don’t utilize their sick or vacation days because they believe it will reflect poorly on their performance.
The lack of communication about a vacation policy can deter employees from taking PTO. You can send the company’s vacation policy as part of a new employee’s onboarding package to let employees know it is okay, and expected from them, to use their PTO.
“Focus on providing employees with a good work-life balance,” says Matt Teifke, Founder & CEO of Teifke Real Estate. “Promote healthy habits within the workplace, such as taking regular breaks and using available vacation time.”
You can track employee vacations through GoCo, which allows you to monitor time-off requests, balances, and approvals—all without spreadsheets. This will allow you to review who has taken their vacation and who may need a gentle reminder to book their next getaway.
Stress levels in the US are out of control. According to the Harvard Business Review, stress leads to almost $190 billion in healthcare costs and 120,000 deaths per year! It’s critical that businesses constantly highlight the resources available to employees through their health insurance and wellness programs.
You can send plan documents easily through an HRMS platform like GoCo. You can also use this opportunity to emphasize additional wellness resources, such as fitness perks, financial wellness resources, an Employee Assistance Program, etc.
One of the surprising factors leading to burnout is a lack of clarity around role expectations. HR professionals can mitigate this by taking the onboarding experience as an opportunity to clarify these expectations.
They can help employees to understand their role and how they’ll contribute to the organization’s goals. You can include the job description as part of the onboarding package, which you can automate through GoCo.
A little acknowledgment can go a long way. Some employees feel burned out when their hard work and contributions aren’t acknowledged. In some cases, preventing burnout can be easier than many expect.
“Make sure you are recognizing the great work your team is doing on a day-to-day basis,” says Logan Mallory, Vice President of Marketing at Motivosity. “Employees want to know they’re having an impact and hearing ‘thank you’ makes that clear—and reduces many problems that may be on the horizon!”
There’s no doubt that emotional and behavioral issues that result from burnout negatively affect both employees and employers. These issues are rarely self-contained, and often damage the morale of other employees and the overall productivity of the organization.
“Employees who are experiencing burnout become cynical, irritable, prone to conflicts, and inconsiderate, or withdraw and limit their interactions with others to the necessary minimum,” says Piotrek Sosnowski, Chief People & Culture Officer at HiJunior. “These behaviors stem from the feelings of detachment and disillusionment that burnout causes.”
HR professionals can prevent burnout by highlighting the resources available to employees during the onboarding process. This can lead to higher engagement and increased employee retention. Utilizing an HRMS platform like GoCo means little to no additional work for HR teams looking to integrate such resources into their onboarding packages.