August 17, 2023

How to Manage and Prevent Employee Burnout

How to Manage and Prevent Employee Burnout

Employee burnout can cause serious damage to your company, and more importantly to the lives of honest, hard-working employees.

It’s serious enough that the World Health Organization (WHO) recognizes it, classifying it as an “occupational phenomenon” and a threat to well-being in the workplace.

If you’re a business owner, manager, or in any way leading a team, you need to know about burnout and the effect it has. In this article we’ll share with you everything you need to know to manage burnout in your organization, and more importantly, to prevent employee burnout in the first place.

What is Employee Burnout?

Burnout is a state of exhaustion brought on by stress, usually to do with overwork or problems at work. It can show in a number of ways, including physical or mental symptoms.

The WHO’s definition mentions three dimensions to workplace burnout:

  • Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion.
  • Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.
  • Reduced professional efficacy.

How Many People Experience Burnout?

Many studies and surveys have been conducted that look at how widespread job burnout is.

In one study, Asana found that 70% of the more than 10,000 knowledge workers participating in the study experienced burnout at some time in the last year.

In a Gallup study, 67% of the 7500 employees surveyed reported feeling burned out at least some of the time – 23% saying they experience burnout at work very often or always

In another, Deloitte conducted a study of 1,000 full-time workers in the US, and 77% said they had experienced burnout in their current job, more than half saying they had experienced burnout more than once.

These are just a few examples of the research that has been done into worker burnout, and gives you some idea of how common and widespread the issue is today.

Employee Burnout Signs

Burnout gets progressively harder to treat the longer it’s left unchecked, and recognizing the signs of employee burnout is essential for catching it early.

Here are some of the most common signs of burnout:

  • Decreased engagement & enthusiasm: burned out employees may appear less enthusiastic and less excited about their job, and give off a general air of unhappiness, or that they don’t want to be at work.
  • Decreased productivity or attention to detail: burned out employees become less productive, and you may notice an increase in minor errors or mistakes that feel out of character for that person.
  • Increased absences or lateness: job stress and burnout often leads to an increase in sick days, or the employee being late more often than normal.
  • Irritability: you might notice the employee becoming short-tempered or easily angered, overreactions to small inconveniences and spontaneous outbursts.
  • Cynicism: burned out employees are often overly negative and pessimistic, and feel like what they’re doing in the company doesn’t matter.
  • Decreased participation in social activities: you might notice a growing distance between the employee and others in the company, and the employee might stop participating in social activities in and around the workplace.
  • Physical symptoms: burnout can also result in physical symptoms, such as headaches, stomach issues, fatigue, sleep issues and changes in appetite (these may not be clearly evident to others, but may result in an increase in sick days). These signs do not always indicate a clear-cut case of job burnout, but should be cause for further investigation as to whether further action is needed to help the employee.

These signs do not always indicate a clear-cut case of job burnout, but should be cause for further investigation as to whether further action is needed to help the employee.

What Causes Burnout?

The WHO’s definition of burnout states that it is a “syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”

This is good as a broad description of where burnout comes from, but to manage and prevent burnout effectively, you’ll need to understand it on a deeper level.

There are always more precise things that lead to an increase in employee stress, which is then not effectively managed, and grows into burnout.

Here are some of the most common causes:

  • Overwork: a heavy workload is the most common reason people become burned out. The amount of work makes the employee feel overwhelmed, and eventually leads to burnout. Pressure: similar to workload issues, many employees begin to feel burned out from consistently high expectations and pressure to perform.
  • Poor work-life balance: employee burnout is often caused by work dominating the employee’s life, not giving them the opportunity to unwind and recharge outside of work.
  • Unhealthy workplace culture: workplace issues are another very common cause of burnout. This can include unfair treatment from their manager or supervisor, personal issues with other team members.
  • Lack of recognition: many employees feel they work long and hard and never get recognition for their contributions to the business, exacerbating stress and burnout symptoms.
  • Poor support or communication: employees can become stressed, overwhelmed and eventually burned out by poor communication, or not being given the training or resources they need to do their job successfully.
  • Isolation: more common these days with work from home and remote teams, employees can become burned out by sitting in front of a screen all day with no social contact or interactions with their co-workers.
  • Issues outside of work: issues in employees’ personal lives can also lead to burnout, by creating stress that carries over into the workplace.

When it comes to addressing burnout, prevention is always much easier than trying to find a cure. And the longer an employee has been burned out, the more difficult it is to turn it around.

You can help employees manage burnout by first noticing the early signs of burnout, and then taking the following steps (where appropriate/necessary):

  • Communicate with the employee. The first thing to do is talk with the person, and hear what they have to say about what they’re feeling/experiencing. Sometimes a talk will be enough in itself to improve things, but making employees feel supported and valued. But it should also bring forth the reason they have become burned out, which lets you craft your next steps.

  • Address the root cause. Hopefully, a conversion will unearth the root cause of burnout. From there, take action to fix the issue, such as reducing their workload, helping employees maintain a better work-life balance, or addressing interpersonal problems in the workplace.

  • Encourage employees to take time off. Whatever the cause, a vacation is a great way to help employees manage stress, recharge, and reduce burnout. Even just a few days off can help. Just make sure the person feels free to completely switch off work while they’re away, and is not going to come back to a bigger mountain of work when they return.

  • Rethink your work environment. You may want to make changes to your work environment. If you have a high-pressure, low-reward work culture, don’t be surprised by high levels of employee burnout.

And if you unearth any personal issues within the workplace, such as office politics, bullying or harassment, stamp these out as soon as possible.

  • Refer the employee to a mental health professional. If things are really bad, the employee may be advised to get help from a mental health professional. Support your employees if this is the case; try to eliminate stigma of people seeking help for their mental health, and don’t look down on someone for admitting that they need help.

How to Prevent Employee Burnout

As mentioned, the best way to combat burnout is to prevent it, rather than wait and treat employee burnout after the fact.

Preventing employee burnout comes down to building a positive, wellness-centric work environment. Here are some tips for building a burnout-free workplace:

  • Have regular, open conversations with your staff: talking (more importantly, listening) to employees will make them feel valued, and help identify problems in the workplace as early as possible.
  • Manage employees’ workloads: always be conscious of how much you’re putting on someone’s plate, and ask employees if they feel it’s too much.
  • Encourage employees to take regular vacations: make vacation time a priority in your business. Set expectations that employees should take all their vacation time, and don’t pressure people to work during their vacations. Promote wellness: set up wellness programs and other employee benefits that promote better physical and mental health for your employees.
  • Recognize big and small wins: make a point of recognizing “wins” in your business, both big and small, to foster more positivity and make employees feel that their great work is being noticed.
  • Stamp out office politics and toxic behaviors immediately: any negativity or personal issues should be addressed straight away, to avoid growing into larger issues with your company culture that are difficult to fix.

Final Thoughts on Burnout at Work Employee burnout is a serious concern; left unchecked, it will lead to increased rates of employee turnover, poor productivity, and interpersonal issues in your workplace.

It’s even worse for the employee. Workplace stress carries over into someone’s personal life, generating mental health issues, physical health problems, general unhappiness and personal problems at home.

It’s your responsibility, as the leader of a team of people, to help promote employee engagement, happiness, satisfaction, and let employees work in a positive environment, free from burnout.

Reducing or preventing employee burnout will result in a happier, more productive team, a more successful company and more fulfilled lives for your team members.

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