While burnout has always been prevalent in the workplace, the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated the problem. According to a Gallup poll, fully remote workers are now experiencing more burnout than on-site workers, which should signal to employers that ensuring and sustaining a comfortable, positive, and productive work environment should be of immediate concern.
To address and prevent burnout, though, it’s important to first understand what it is and its general impact.
Employee Burnout and Its Impact
In its December 2020 report on burnout, mental health care organization Spring Health described it as a state of physical and emotional exhaustion that’s often reached after an extended period of high stress. The organization noted three primary symptoms of burnout:
- Feeling negative, cynical, or detached from work
- Reduced work performance
Along with the physical and mental toll on employees, burnout also has a significant financial impact on businesses. According to the Harvard Business Review (HBR), the psychological and physical problems of burned-out employees cost an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion a year in health care spending. However, the HBR report points out that the low productivity and high turnover caused by employee burnout can be directly tied to the employers themselves. The HBR researchers advise that executives need to own up to their role in creating workplace stress that leads to burnout—specifically generating heavy workloads, job insecurity, and frustrating work routines that include too many meetings and far too little time for creative work.
Once executives confront the problems at an organizational level, they can use organizational measures to address them.
Signs of Employee Burnout
Employers need to acknowledge the warning signs that an employee may be feeling stressed and overworked—in particular, behavior that may be generally uncharacteristic of their worker such as:
- Short-tempered when problems arise
- Snapping at coworkers
- Negativity toward colleagues, the work, or their job
- Looking stressed and exhausted
- Harboring grudges
- Dwelling on unresolved issues and areas of concern in meetings
How Employers Can Address and Prevent Employee Burnout
According to another study conducted by Gallup, the main factors that cause employee burnout have less to do with expectations for hard work and high performance than with how the employee is managed.
In its report, the analytics and advisory firm identified five main workplace factors that contribute to burnout, and how employers can address them.
- Unfair treatment: Avoid unfair treatment of employees at work including bias, favoritism, unfair compensation, and the inconsistent application of workplace policies.
- Overworking employees: Do not assign an unmanageable workload that employees can’t control. This can result in poor performance and lack of confidence. Find out and support what employees can and can’t accomplish, and if need be, find others to help them.
- Being unclear: Address the lack of clarity employees may have about their roles by discussing specific responsibilities and performance goals so they understand exactly what is expected from them.
- Lack of communication: Provide frequent communication and support so employees know you have their back.
- Time pressure: Avoid setting unreasonable deadlines and time constraints, which can compromise performance on the task at hand, and lead to delays on the next assignment. Be reasonable about scheduling.
In addition to confronting and addressing existing factors surrounding burnout, Gallup also identified several ways that managers and employers can be proactive. These include:
- Listening to employees’ work-related problems
- Encouraging teamwork
- Making everyone’s opinion count by actively soliciting employees’ thoughts and ideas
- Giving each assignment or project a sense of purpose that connects to the company’s mission
- Focusing on strengths-based feedback and development by, for instance, assigning tasks that maximize employees’ talents
If an employer recognizes that burnout is becoming an issue with their employee, they should promptly schedule a meeting to directly address the problem. In a comfortable setting, discuss the problem(s) at hand, what needs to be changed from both a business and employee perspective, and how the latter can also seek help through an employee assistance program.
The Bottom Line
Burnout is serious and its effects on an employee’s mental, emotional, and physical health shouldn't be underestimated. As an employer, you should be aware of the symptoms of employee burnout, address the factors that cause them, and take preventive measures to ensure that the employee’s well-being is of utmost importance. By doing so, you can foster and sustain a healthier workplace and business—whether onsite or remote.