Most employees have experienced some level of stress at work with; never-ending workloads, extreme deadlines, being pulled in multiple directions, but when it crescendos and becomes debilitating, it has another name; burnout.
What is Employee Burnout?
According to the Mayo Clinic, burnout is defined as a condition experienced by workers and other professionals where they develop depression-like symptoms due to aspects of their job. Although burnout is not a medical diagnosis, it can and does affect employees' mental health.
There are three main employee burnout signs to watch for::
- Exhaustion or feelings of lack of energy
- Negative emotions or bitterness toward your job
- Inability to complete the job or workplace-related tasks
These symptoms refer primarily to your workplace or job. For example, if you are experiencing frustration with coworkers and struggling to complete simple tasks related to your job, there is a strong possibility you are experiencing burnout.
Most workers are not alone in experiencing burnout; according to a survey by Deloitte, 77% of respondents experience employee burnout at their current job. Workplace burnout is an endemic problem, with more and more employees reaching the point of exhaustion. A recent Gallup poll found that 23 percent of employees experience burnout at work very often or always, while 44 percent experience it sometimes. While the number of employees experiencing burnout continues to grow, it's essential to spot the signs of employee burnout.
Signs of Employee Burnout
It is essential to recognize that all employees feel workplace stress at some point. However, symptoms of burnout caused by work-related stress are different and may need a closer examination to understand the causes. Recognizing these employee burnout signs is essential not only for individual employees but also for organizations. Recognizing these symptoms can help individuals and organizations act before symptoms get too severe, resulting in employee retention issues leading to revenue losses due to lack of performance.
- Exhaustion or feelings of lack of energy - is the main symptom of burnout. It presents itself as physical, cognitive, and emotional exhaustion that erodes employees' ability to feel positive about their work. This can be attributed to a 24/7 organizational culture, intense delivery pressure, or having too much to do. This creates a state of fatigue, where employees cannot maintain focus or see strategically, turning routine and previously enjoyable tasks into grueling assignments.
- Negative feelings or bitterness toward the job/company mean a growing lack of engagement. This lack of attention leads to employees feeling detached from their assignments, projects, colleagues, and other collaborators. Employees may feel pessimistic or even cynical about the job and company.
- Inability to complete a job or workplace-related tasks - Employees with this symptom of burnout feel they won't succeed in certain situations or accomplish specific tasks. It is often in conjunction with exhaustion and cynicism because employees who cannot perform at their peak feel a loss of their connection to the work. This can be compounded by the absence of feedback and meaningful recognition, leading to unappreciated feelings.
According to Stanford researchers, these symptoms and other workplace-related stressors led to $190 billion spent in health costs and resulted in nearly 120,000 deaths each year. Burnout has a tangible impact on the employees, impacting businesses' bottom line. Findings from the APA estimate that workplace stress costs the U.S. economy more than 500 billion dollars and 550 million workdays are lost due to pressure on the job each year. Employers need to understand and address the core reasons that lead to burnout.
Common Reasons for Burnout in the Workplace
Burnout does not happen overnight to employees. Several reasons can cause burnout, and it is usually a few combined. Unfortunately, it may be hard for employers to self recognize these reasons, so it is crucial to create a dialogue with employees to understand what may be contributing to burnout.
- Unfair treatment at work - Employees are 2.3 times more likely to experience a high level of burnout when they feel mistreated. Examples of unfair treatment include bias, inequality, or unfair compensation discriminating corporate policies. Trust is the backbone of any relationship, and when there is none between employees and their manager, teammates, or leadership, it breaks the bond that makes work meaningful.
- Unmanageable workload - Leveraged in sports psychology, the term "mental quicksand" describes how instances of poor performance can cause athletes to become overwhelmed. This causes poor performance and damage to employee confidence, dragging them down. Even high-performing employees can transition from confident to hopeless as the workload becomes unmanageable. When employees' workloads are out of control, employees look to their managers to advocate for what they can and can't accomplish and find others to help them.
- Lack of role clarity - A State of the American Workplace report stated that only 60% of workers know what is expected at work. Employees quickly become exhausted trying to figure out what people want from them when accountability and expectations are moving targets.
- Lack of support and communication from a manager - Manager support and frequent communication provide a psychological buffer. Hence, employees know that their manager has their back even if something goes wrong. Employees who feel supported by their manager are about 70% less likely to experience burnout. Inattentive or adversarial managers can leave employees feeling uninformed alone and foster defensiveness.
- Unreasonable time pressure - Some professions will always have extreme time constraints -- like hospital workers or law enforcement. For most employees, managers and leaders often impose time constraints with a lack of understanding on timelines for delivering quality work. This can create resentment and anger from employees adding to burnout. An outcome that can be prevented through a leadership development program.
How to Manage and Prevent Employee Burnout
Understanding the causes of burnout helps employers know how to deal with burnout in the workplace and prevent it further. Each employee may have different reasons for burnout, but there will be commonalities as some of these will be because of systemic issues within a company or particular teams.
- Be mindful of feelings - Paying attention to employees' feelings, emotions, and what triggers them can help employers understand what is causing cynicism, frustration, and boredom.
- Create boundaries - Workloads quickly build up if boundaries are not created and discussed. It can be unavoidable sometimes, but setting expectations with manager/communication and prioritization sets the stage for dialogue and problem solving when things are getting overwhelming. This gives employees a feeling of control over their situation and allows managers/employees to set expectations.
- Invest in employees' lives outside of work - More severe cases of burnout will impact the company but will bleed into employees' personal lives. Therefore, it's important to remind and encourage employees to invest in their physical well-being like sleep, exercise, and social time. In addition, it's essential to promote and actively support employees on a good work-life balance.
- Employees should not bring work home - Employees need to separate their work and personal life. Allowing employees to have a set work schedule will enable employers and coworkers to understand when an individual must be working and responsive and when they will be offline. Encourage leaving laptops at work if possible or in a drawer when workdays are over if remote to help create boundaries.
- Knock out a quick win - Whether it be a personal or work goal, it is vital to encourage employees to complete easy items on their task list. For example, respond to a couple of emails, finish a book, or vacuum their house. Being able to celebrate a win in one area of their life will help them feel more capable at work.
- Encourage dialogue between employees and leadership on these issues. There is a strong probability that more than one employee is experiencing burnout symptoms, and it usually means that something is broken at the organizational level. Leadership and managers make a critical difference in an employee's job, workplace environment, and access to tools and support.
- Practice mindfulness - Allow personal time for self-reflection. It's easy to burn out when employees do everything on their task list except balance their individual needs. Instead, encourage them to set a couple of minutes daily that allow them to breathe between back-to-back meetings.
- Invest in Coaching for Employees - Preventing and treating burnout can feel like a daunting task, and employees are usually not equipped to handle the pressure, but it doesn't have to be that way. Investing in scalable 1:1 coaching solutions to help employees prioritize and focus their mindsets on performing at their best while sustaining that performance can boost employee morale, increase retention and give employees the tools they need to overcome and prevent burnout.
Rates of employee burnout continue to increase year over year as the pace of work and life speeds up. Therefore, it is more important than ever for employers to address this issue as employees look for new jobs and opportunities at companies where these issues are being addressed and solved. If not, businesses and leadership will continue to be impacted by costs of recruiting new employees and lower performance among their current employees resulting in lower revenues and output.
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