Employee burnout. Two words you hear a lot together these days. While it’s been a growing problem in recent years, the pandemic put it even further under the spotlight.
The extremely stressful public health emergency put stress on both professional and personal lives around the globe. It’s also led more people to work remotely. Remote employees tend to work longer hours and eat lunch at their desks. Obviously, burnout has especially affected essential employees who try to stay safe and healthy while working throughout the pandemic. Also, working parents don’t fare much better. With a majority providing or in charge of caregiving responsibilities, it’s proven difficult to navigate remote work experience.
It’s no wonder people are feeling spent, devoid of energy, and alienated from their companies. Burnout can have serious economic and health-related consequences too. According to the American Psychological Association (APA), the U.S. economy will lose $500 billion a year and 550 million workdays due to workplace stress. Excessive and unmanaged stress can lead to burnout. Unfortunately, burnout can lead to clinical depression, substance abuse, and even premature death.
Employee burnout will continue to be an issue beyond the pandemic. It’s a key driver of the highly anticipated turnover tsunami. Burnout can also lead to lower productivity and ultimately affect business performance. So, you can’t afford to ignore employee burnout. But, before deciding on preventative measures, you need to spot the early warning signs to determine the best course of action.
What is employee burnout, and how can you spot the warning signs?
The World Health Organization (WHO) describes employee burnout as a syndrome resulting from the unsuccessful management of chronic workplace stress. One of the most telling signs of burnout is when high-performing employees become unreliable, lax, and increasingly negative or cynical towards their job. There are also several other tell-tale signs:
- Difficulties in concentrating
- Increased number of mistakes
- Lower motivation
- Reduced productivity
- Increase in used sick days
- Irritability with colleagues and consistently making harsh comments
- Increased emotional fragility or getting upset easily
Some of these signs are also symptoms of stress. But stress is not the same as burnout. Burned-out employees are completely physically and mentally exhausted. They’ve lost hope of seeing any positive change in their situations. On the other hand, stressed employees still believe that they’ll feel better if they just complete their tasks. As a result, stressed employees can be highly engaged.
But stress can often be a gateway to burnout, so it’s essential that you take these preventative measures before burnout has severe consequences for both your employees and your business.
How can you prevent employee burnout?
Once, burnout was considered an individual problem. But now, considerable research shows that outside factors relating to the workplace cause it. These include increasing workload; employees’ perceived lack of control over their work; unfair treatment; lack of role clarity; lack of communication and support from their managers; poor work/life balance; and feeling unappreciated for their work. That’s why it’s crucial to develop workplace policies and practices that address these issues so that you can prevent burnout:
Check-in regularly with your employees. Ask how they’re doing, how they feel about their workloads, and whether they find their projects interesting. This will help you get to know them, discover their interests and passions, and determine what gives them purpose. Also, make it clear to employees that their well-being takes priority over work. Please encourage them to seek professional help whenever they need it. If your company offers an Employee Assistance Program (EAP), this is a great time to guide them to that resource. Whatever you do, make sure you act when employees communicate burnout. Part of experiencing burnout is the feeling nothing will change.
Set clear and realistic goals
Always state clearly what you expect from your employees and what goals you’d like them to meet. Don’t give them long to-do lists or several goals at once. Give them one to three specific goals to focus on weekly. This will make workloads more manageable and balanced. Monitor progress with regular team meetings. Anticipate obstacles that could cause delays so that you can plan around them.
Identify the skills and resources that your employees need to fulfill their roles and those they aspire to fill. This helps you work out what specific training they need. It also enables your employees to meet and exceed expectations. They’ll flourish in their positions while expanding their skillset. And, you will keep them mentally engaged by allowing them to grow in areas of interest.
Enforce reasonable work hours
Encourage employees to go home on time and set good boundaries. Persuade them to take regular breaks and eat lunch away from their desk. Set an organization-wide precedence that employees do not need to respond to calls or emails when taking a day off. This will help them maintain a good work-life balance and feel refreshed. This type of behavior should be modeled from leadership. If a manager behaves in certain ways while utilizing PTO, the employee may feel obligated to do the same.
More importantly, offer flexible working arrangements, especially for employees juggling work and family commitments. Allow them the freedom to set their own schedules. This will help them avoid burnout and make them feel trusted and appreciated.
Offer wellness perks
Providing benefits that improve your employees’ physical and mental well-being has also become crucial in helping them avoid burnout. More importantly, wellness benefits allow them to relax after a stressful day and return to their work responsibilities feeling energized. Wellness programs can include meditation sessions, healthy eating classes, yoga, mental health webinars, and reimbursements for a gym membership. If you don’t have a formal wellness program in place, there are smaller steps you can take in the right direction. Provide healthy snacks in the breakroom or host a steps (walking) challenge.
Recognize employees for their achievements
Begin with generous financial rewards. But don’t stop there. After compensation, frequently recognize employees for their contributions. It’s a very effective way to impact performance positively and doesn’t have to be costly. So, regularly praise them for specific results, actions, and behaviors. Share stories of how individual employees exceeded a target or went above and beyond for a customer. This will make your workers feel valued and take more pride in their work.
Advancements in technology have brought about a 24/7 culture and have blurred the boundaries between work and home. The pandemic has accelerated both these trends, which are here to stay. So, there will always be a risk of burnout. Providing flexible work practices, along with generous rewards and benefits, can help you avoid it. Small, sincere actions from your organization are a great way to show employees that their physical and mental health is important to you. Plus, your employees will develop a positive sense of achievement and well-being in their professional and personal lives.