Some have called it the ‘silent epidemic gripping the nation.’ Others have said it’s the ‘silent killer of employee health and productivity.’ We’re talking about employee burnout. We’ve all seen it or perhaps even experienced it ourselves—the feeling of being overwhelmed and under enthused or the lack of motivation and negative feelings toward your job.
Even before COVID-19, employees struggled with burnout. Then, during the pandemic, ‘quiet quitting’ (i.e., doing the bare minimum of one’s job requirements) became a real thing. There’s no doubt that employee burnout has reached record high rates. Unfortunately, without intervention, it shows no signs of slowing anytime soon.
What do you need to know about employee burnout? We’ve got everything you need plus four tips to address it.
What is burnout?
According to the Mayo Clinic, burnout is a “special type of work-related stress—a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.” When employees experience burnout, they most likely feel a reduced sense of accomplishment, a loss of personal and professional identity, and less ownership in their work. It’s a horrible mental state in which to exist.
Burnout can even present with physical symptoms such as lack of quality sleep, stress headaches, loss of appetite, stomach issues, and headaches. These symptoms don’t just magically disappear. They may actually worsen unless and until employers do something about it.
How do you identify burnout?
Burnout isn’t always easy to identity. That’s because it can fly under the radar in the absence of a work environment that promotes health and well-being. If employees don’t feel safe speaking up about feeling overwhelmed, they won’t. This silence can be misleading, and it may cause you to assume that burnout isn’t a problem when it is.
All managers should be trained to recognize the warning signs of burnout. These include the following:
- Detachment from one’s own life or workplace
- Increased presenteeism
- Lack of energy
- Reduced productivity
These symptoms are more common that you might think. For example, a recent survey found that one in four employees worldwide experience burnout symptoms. The sooner managers identify and address the sympoms, the better off employees will be.
What causes employee burnout?
Burnout can occur for several reasons.
For example, unfair treatment can create a sense of hopelessness. This can include bias, a sense of favoritism, unfair compensation, or unfair corporate practices.
Another cause? Unmanageable workload that causes employees to feel overwhelmed. In the absence of effective management, these feelings of overwhelm will only continue to grow, often leading to burnout.
A third cause of burnout is a lack of defined roles. This can occur when managers don’t set clear expectations. Employees may be confused about their responsibilities, and they may start to feel as though nothing they do is correct.
Finally, poor communication can cause employee burnout. Poor communication (i.e., not communicating clearly, frequently, and respectfully) can cause feelings of isolation and disengagement among employees. Ultimately, communication is a crucial pillar for employee engagement.
Why is employee burnout bad for business?
Employee burnout can be catastrophic for any business. Here’s why.
First, it leads to lost productivity. When employees are burned out, they produce less—and quality suffers as well. That’s because these employees may not be able to focus as well or they start to lose their drive to work. They may also be more likely to be absent from work because they can’t handle the stress. Sixty-three percent of employees who are burned out, for example, are more likely to take a sick day. This absenteeism contributes to overall lost productivity. Absenteeism due to illness (including burnout) costs employers $225.8 billion in lost productivity annually.
Second, burnout can increase turnover. Employees who are burned out are 2.6 times more likely to actively seek a different job. When burnout goes unaddressed, companies not only lose valuable talent; they must also fork over money to replace that talent. It costs employers roughly $4,000 annually to hire each new employee.
Third, burnout increases healthcare costs. For example, burned out employees are 23% more likely to visit the emergency room. Workplace stress alone costs U.S. employers upwards of $190 a year in healthcare costs. When employee burnout continues to increase, the costs of premiums go up as well.
What can employers do to reduce burnout?
The good news is that employers can take steps to reduce burnout. How? Consider these four tips:
- Provide employees with solutions to address burnout proactively. The goal is to help employees become more resilient. For example, there are many solutions that can help employees identify and tackle burnout and the everyday ups and downs of life before symptoms become out of control, presenting operational and financial challenges.
- Value employees. This may sound obvious; however, it’s something that can significantly reduce burnout. For example, consider providing small perks like gift cards or a free lunch. Providing extra time off or an extra break in the workday are additional options.
- Cultivate a more positive workplace culture. It’s every manager’s job to do this. However, unfortunately, focusing on workplace culture often falls to the bottom of the priority list as other items take precedence. However, workplace culture plays a huge role in burnout. What are some ways to improve culture? Encourage employees to support each other, delegate workloads appropriately, or improve the physical environment with ergonomic equipment for example.
- Leverage technology. Automation and artificial intelligence may alleviate some of the mundane tasks that can cause burnout. Exploring these solutions can help employees feel more challenged in a good way.
What’s the best way to get the ball rolling? Start small, and then expand your efforts.