Burnout is a serious problem—and it’s only gotten worse in the face of COVID-19. A recent survey from FlexJobs and Mental Health America found that 75 percent of workers have experienced burnout at work at some point in their careers—with 40 percent experiencing burnout during the pandemic.
But why is burnout such a problem? What risks does it pose to your team—and your business? And, as a business owner, how can you help your employees avoid burnout?
What Is Employee Burnout?
First things first—before we jump into how to help your employees avoid burnout, let’s quickly define what, exactly, burnout is.
Employee burnout is a type of workplace stress. The World Health Organization defines burnout as an “occupational phenomenon...resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” So essentially, when employees feel chronically stressed at work—and they don’t have any effective way to manage or mitigate that stress—it puts them at risk of burnout.
There are five stages of employee burnout:
- Honeymoon stage. During the honeymoon stage, employees are satisfied with their jobs, engaged with their work, and feel equipped to handle stressful times—as work stressors feel like the exception, not the rule.
- Stress onset. During the stress onset stage, employees start to feel more stressed on a more regular basis—but still feel overall happy at work and able to manage the stress.
- Chronic stress. During the chronic stress stage, team members feel stressed more often than not—and that stress is starting to take a serious toll.
- Burnout. During the burnout stage, employees are completely overwhelmed by stress, unhappy at work, and are experiencing symptoms of burnout that interfere with their ability to do their job.
- Habitual or chronic burnout. At this stage, burnout is a way of life; the feeling and experience of employee burnout is chronic and habitual—and that burnout is not only causing issues at work, but issues in their personal lives.
What Causes Employee Burnout?
Burnout happens when employees feel chronically stressed and overwhelmed at work. That stress and overwhelm can come from a variety of sources, including:
- Unfair treatment at work. According to a 2018 Gallup study, unfair treatment at work is the number one cause of employee burnout; employees who feel they are often treated unfairly at work are 2.3 times more likely to experience burnout.
- Demanding work schedules and workload. If an employee is putting in long hours, overwhelmed with too many tasks and responsibilities, or feel like they don’t have enough time to get things done, it can drive stress—and contribute to burnout. According to the aforementioned Gallup study, unmanageable workloads and unreasonable time pressure are major drivers of employee burnout.
- Toxic work environment. Employees want to work in a place where they feel supported, appreciated, and validated—and when they don’t, it can cause major stress. As such, a toxic company culture (or toxic co-workers) can drive burnout within an organization.
- Bad management. Often, the cause of employee burnout is less about the employee—and more about the manager. The Gallup study ranked “lack of communication and support from management” as one of the top five causes of employee burnout.
- Unfair compensation. If an employee doesn’t feel like they’re fairly compensated for their work, they can become increasingly stressed, disengaged, and, eventually, burned out.
How Do You Know When Your Employees Are Approaching Burnout?
When employees reach the point of burnout, they experience a variety of symptoms—physical, emotional, and work-related. And,
Some of the most common symptoms of burnout include:
- Physical exhaustion
- Emotional exhaustion and feelings of overwhelm
- Issues with concentration, focus, and productivity
- Lack of engagement with work
- Reduced feelings of competence and/or accomplishment
- Resentment, cynicism, and/or apathy towards work
For example, let’s say you have an employee that used to power through projects quickly. But recently, since they’ve started taking on more project work, you’ve noticed their productivity has taken a nosedive—and it now takes them three times as long to power through a project. That decrease in productivity (especially if it’s linked to an increase in work or work-related responsibilities) can be a clear sign of burnout.
As a leader, if you want to help your employees avoid workplace burnout, you need to be able to spot the warning signs that your employee is feeling stressed and overwhelmed—and nip them in the bud before they spiral into full-blown burnout.
Why Is It Important to Help Your Employees Avoid Burnout?
Clearly, burnout can take a serious toll on your employees—but it can also take a serious toll on your business.
Employee burnout can have a variety of negative impacts on your organization, including:
- High turnover. When your team feels chronically stressed at work, it can cause them to look for a less stressful job—which can cause employee retention to take a nosedive. According to the Gallup study, employees experiencing burnout are 2.6 times as likely to be actively seeking a different job. And a high turnover rate can cost your company in a big way; according to the Work Institute’s 2020 Retention Report, replacing an employee costs an organization approximately 30 percent of the employee’s annual salary.
- Increased absenteeism. According to the Gallup study, employees experiencing burnout are 63 percent more likely to take a sick day than their non-burned out co-workers.
- Decreased employee engagement. As mentioned, one of the hallmark symptoms of burnout is disengagement—and if you want your business to succeed, the last thing you want is disengaged employees. Employee engagement is one of the biggest markers of a company’s success. According to the 2017 Gallup State of the American Workplace Report, engaged employees have 10 percent higher customer satisfaction metrics, are 17 percent more productive, and have a 41 percent lower rate of absenteeism than disengaged employees—and businesses with an engaged team outperform competitors with less engaged employees by an impressive 202 percent.
Top 6 Tips to Prevent Employee Burnout
Clearly, helping your employees avoid burnout is an absolute must—both for your employees’ well-being and for the well-being of your organization.
But how, exactly, do you do that? Here are a the top six tips to help you help your employees keep burnout at bay:
- Encourage a healthy work-life balance. Burnout is often a result of overwork—so, if you want to help your employees avoid burnout, make a healthy work-life balance a part of your workplace culture. Make sure your employees have manageable work hours. If they’re working remotely, give them a stipend to set up a separate workstation (to create a clear sense of separation between their work life and home life). Let them know they’re not expected to answer work emails or messages during off-hours—and then back that up by not sending them emails or messages during their off-hours.
- Take tasks off your team’s plate. If your employees feel like they have too much work to complete during the workday, they’re going to take work home with them—which will throw off their work-life balance and bring them one step closer to burnout. Make sure you’re allocating tasks and responsibilities in a way that doesn’t overwhelm any single employee—and if you notice an employee has too much on their plate, do what you can to give them some breathing room and assign some of their tasks to other team members.
- Offer competitive compensation and benefits. As mentioned, employees are more at risk for burnout when they feel like they’re working hard—but aren’t being compensated fairly for that work. If you want to keep employee burnout at bay, make sure you’re offering competitive compensation and benefits packages, including PTO and healthcare (when possible).
- Schedule regular check-ins. It’s hard to know if an employee is approaching burnout if you don’t have a ton of interaction with them. Schedule regular check-ins with your employees to see how they’re doing—and if, during that meeting, you get the sense that they’re stressed or overwhelmed, take steps to protect them from burnout (for example, encouraging them to take a day off). This is especially important for remote employees—who, since they’re not working in the same place as you, make it even harder to spot signs of burnout.
- Launch a wellness initiative. If your employees can better handle stress, they may be able to better avoid burnout. A corporate wellness initiative that supports your employees’ physical and mental health can help your team get to a place where they’re better able to manage stress—and when they can better manage stress, they’re less likely to burn out.
- Intervene before burnout happens. Once an employee is at the burnout or chronic burnout stage, it can be hard to get them re-engaged. Keep your eyes out for the signs of burnout—and intervene when you sense an employee is feeling stressed or overwhelmed. If you can help them get a better handle on their work stress before they reach the point of burnout, you’re likely going to have a better outcome than trying to reverse burnout after it’s already happened.
Help Your Team Keep Burnout At Bay — and Watch Your Business Thrive As a Result
Preventing burnout isn’t just your employees’ responsibility—as a business owner, it’s also your job to help your team avoid burnout. And now that you know exactly how to support your team, you can banish burnout within your organization—and watch your team (and business!) thrive in the process.