How to Prevent Work Burnout

If you’ve been ignoring employee burnout, here’s your wake-up call – in 2021 over 4 in 10 employees said they’re more ‘burnt out’ on the job than they were a year ago. Members of the modern workforce have been faced with hard-to-control challenges such as an unhealthy work/life balance, an unmanageable workload, and limited opportunities to relieve stress.

Thankfully, many organizations are taking steps to acknowledge and reduce burnout. Initiatives are being adopted to focus on employees’ mental health and general well-being. But, as the statistics show, there’s still a long way to go.

What is Employee Burnout?

Employee burnout (also known as job burnout or work burnout) is a type of work-related stress that’s recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an occupational phenomenon. The WHO characterizes job burnout by the persistence of three factors:

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Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion

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Increased mental distance or feelings of negativity related to a job

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Reduced professional efficacy

It can be normal to experience these symptoms without suffering from burnout, everyone gets stressed at work periodically. However, burnout is defined by the persistence of all three of these factors. If you notice your employees consistently exhibiting these characteristics, or notice them in yourself – it may be burnout.

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Job Burnout During COVID-19

It’s easy to assume that the majority of burnout was a result of COVID-19, which caused millions of workers around the world to work from home, often dealing with setups that weren’t intended for a 40-hour workweek. But, COVID-19 and its impacts can’t be blamed entirely for the high number of burnout cases. A study by Indeed showed that 43% of respondents were experiencing burnout months before the pandemic. In short, employee burnout will not be significantly reduced simply by overcoming COVID-19, so it’s important to get to the root cause.

What Causes Work Burnout?

Before discussing how to combat work burnout, we’ve outlined some of the top work-related situations that can contribute to feelings of burnout.

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Unclear requirements on how to do their job

There are many reasons why someone might be confused about the expectations of their role. They may have never been properly onboarded or perhaps their organization isn’t well-versed in exactly what they should be doing (which can be more common in specialist roles). Alternatively, unclear duties can occur during times of change, such as having to take on extra tasks due to cutbacks or internal restructuring. According to a study by ComPsych, 31% of respondents said “unclear expectations from supervisors” was the most stressful component when experiencing a change in their duties.

Constant busy periods with minimal down-time

When work piles up, it’s necessary to pick up the pace and possibly work some overtime. The workdays can quickly become a blur between meetings, calls, and planning. While every organization has busy periods, these are usually evened out by quieter times. When an employee is constantly working at full speed to keep up with demand, it can feel as though they’re not in control of their workload.

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Poor communication from others

We all know that “communication is key” but what happens when an employee believes there’s a lack of communication at work? Employees are likely to develop feelings of being lonely, confused about their duties, and anxious to work – all of which can lead to burnout. Moreover, a recent study showed that 33% of workers are so frustrated with poor communication, they’ve wanted to quit their jobs.

Lack of work/life balance

Nowadays, it’s extremely easy for employees to stay connected wherever they are. Work tools such as instant messaging software or email can be utilized on personal phones, and video conferencing platforms make anywhere a meeting room. While these tools can be tremendously helpful, they can also blur the line between work and personal time.

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74 percent

Do your employees work from home? Chances are, they do. One survey discovered that employees only complete 74% of their work during the workday. The remaining work is completed after work hours and on the weekends.

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Poor leadership

Poor leadership can cause a breakdown in communication, a lack of teamwork, mistrust, unclear expectations. In fact, poor leadership can be the root cause of many factors that contribute to burnout. One problem with today’s workforce is a lack of management training – a recent report shows that 59% of managers overseeing 1 to 2 people receive no training at all, this is only slightly improved when a manager has more (3 to 5) reports.

Lack of recognition

When employees feel as though their work goes unnoticed (or worse, they only receive critical feedback) it’s likely that they’ll lose their motivation to try. Workplaces that provide strategic recognition are 4 times more likely to see high employee engagement.

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What Are the Signs of Job Burnout?

Some symptoms of employee burnout may be recognizable, but others are more difficult to see. Plus, it can be common for employees to hide the signs of burnout and much harder to detect burnout in remote working employees. Therefore it’s important to be vigilant. Below are some of the main symptoms of job burnout:

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Exhaustion is the most common symptom of work burnout. Whether it’s emotional, mental, or physical exhaustion, being sapped of all energy can be detrimental to an employee’s well-being and performance on the job. Employees suffering from exhaustion will often have difficulty finding the motivation and focus needed to complete work to the best of their ability.

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It is very common for employees suffering from burnout to take more sick days. Additionally, employees may show up late or appear to be offline when they should be online. Suffering employees often seek to avoid projects, coworkers, or leaders that may be a source of their stress. When absences without compelling excuses become the norm, it may be a sign of burnout.

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Struggling employees may become increasingly reclusive. Due to the exhausting nature of burnout, it’s common for formerly social individuals to become quiet and distant, attempting to withdraw from their surroundings. Isolated employees may participate less in meetings, miss or avoid important calls, and can even be irritable or aggressive to avoid communicating with others.

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Decreased Productivity

Often burnout causes employees to feel overwhelmed, exhausted, and stressed out, all of which can significantly reduce an employee’s productivity. Employees may be unable to meet deadlines, quotas or complete tasks at the rate they were once able to. Burnout can also cause the quality of work to suffer, due to trouble focusing or a lack of pride.

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Physical Symptoms

Physical symptoms can often emerge in affected individuals. Burnt out employees can suffer from headaches, panic attacks, nausea, hypertension, and an abnormal loss of appetite. Burnout can also worsen pre-existing health conditions, including types of chronic pain and heart disease.

How does Employee Burnout Affect the Workplace?

Based on the signs of burnout, it should be clear that burnout isn’t simply an issue for the individual. Here are some of the ways employee burnout can have harmful implications for organizations too:

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It’s Extremely Costly

Burnout can be costly to businesses if not dealt with accordingly. It’s estimated that burnout costs the United States $125-190 billion every year in healthcare. Employers will see these costs materialize through absenteeism, presenteeism, reduced productivity, and an increase in workplace incidents.

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Higher Turnover Rate

According to a recent survey, an extremely high 95% of employees are thinking about quitting their jobs and burnout is the number one reason. Burnout isn’t just costly in the extra money spent on healthcare, it can take the top talent away from an organization resulting in many dollars spent to find a replacement and train them up to par.

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Lower Employee Engagement

Employees that are happy in a job role are far more likely to work toward an organization’s goals because they value its success. In contrast, an employee suffering from work-related burnout will likely be far more disengaged and mentally detached from the ‘big picture.’ Low employee engagement can cause many issues, including a loss of revenue and even a bad reputation (past employees with a grudge won’t hold back on sites like Glassdoor and LinkedIn).

How much money does it take to replace an employee?

When an employee leaves, they take with them their knowledge of your business, any additional training paid you for, and their unique soft skills that went beyond the job requirements. The true cost of replacing an employee can vary dramatically, with some studies estimating the cost is between 6 to 9 months of an annual salary, while others state it can cost up to 213% of an annual salary.

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How Can Employers Prevent Burnout?

Being proactive in this fight is important – not only to reduce burnout in your organization, but also to help those you’re unaware are burnt out. Here we’ve outlined some of the top ways you can prevent your employees from burning out:

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Recognize Good Work with Positive Reinforcement

One of the most powerful and effective methods to fight work burnout is positive reinforcement. Managers and executives can sometimes fall into the trap of simply pointing out an employee’s faults – what they could improve upon – rather than acknowledging what they’re doing well at too. Recognizing hard work with positive reinforcement may seem that you’re pointing out the obvious, but it can significantly help employees to know what they are specifically doing well at. Plus, in turn, they’ll know how to keep on the right track.

60 percent

Only 60% of employees can strongly agree that they know what is expected of them. Uncertainty in expectations is largely due to a lack of communication and recognition, which can become stressful obscurity.

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Be a Compassionate Leader

To be an effective leader, having compassion is extremely important. Compassion recognizes that every employee is a component in the success of an organization – there’s an opportunity to learn from others, regardless of their role or authority. It’s also compassionate to influence others without being authoritative, finding ways to encourage and guide employees positively.

Burnout is often something employees have trouble speaking about. When leadership takes a compassionate approach to their employees, it makes it much easier for employees to be honest and tackle their issues without the worry of consequences or judgment.

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"Poor leadership manifests itself in many ways. A common issue is a lack of clear vision and direction. Often the road ahead feels foggy and direction changes faster than traffic lights. When that’s the case last weeks’ hard work can quickly seem like it was pointless, wasted work. People feel burnout as they are continually restarting from the beginning and never get to a destination."

Tim Watson Professional EOS Implementer tractionsix.co.uk
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Provide Support Systems

It’s normal for work to become stressful for periods of time, but the risk of burnout heightens when there is no outlet for an employee to cope with stress.

Support systems can provide your employees with a method to deal with difficult times at work. Encourage a supportive team by being open and honest about your own work hurdles. Alternatively, simply acknowledge when work is busy or a tough project is being undertaken and ask employees how they’re feeling. Providing the ability to freely discuss frustrations, or work through occupational challenges is an invaluable tool for dealing with negative feelings that lead to work burnout.

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"A great practice for managers is to always conduct regular 1:1 discussions with their team members. This way, they will be able to project any potential employee issues, and proactively fix them."

Elena Klitko HR Business Partner at Customertimes Corp | Career Coach | Interview and Job Search Speaker EcoWorkLife
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Encourage Effective Breaks

Taking short breaks periodically for stretching, guided breathing, and even meditation or yoga is really beneficial for mental health – and in turn, can reduce burnout. Any of these breaks from the regular workday can have a great impact on motivation, focus, and mood. Employers should encourage employees to set time aside to participate in these brief intermissions in the workday, or better still, offer your employees free resources that aid the effectiveness of these breaks.

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Create a Flexible Workplace

Providing flexibility for your team can help to improve satisfaction and productivity. An increasing number of workplaces have created flexible working conditions, particularly since COVID-19 forced many to work from home for extended periods of time. Rather than commuting to the office, employees and employers have recognized that working from home can be just as effective – if not more effective – than the traditional workplace. Having the option to work from multiple locations can reduce stress, boost morale, and promote a greater work-life balance.

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Employees without access to flexible work conditions are nearly 2x more likely to have poor mental health.

Flexibility isn’t just limited to the location of your employees. Being able to create a flexible schedule that goes beyond the regular 9-5 workday can aid in minimizing the stress of employees. Increased freedom in scheduling can empower employees to choose what time works best for them, which is often their most productive hours. A win-win for employers looking to minimize burnout and increase productivity.

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Eliminate Bullying and Discrimination

Unfortunately, many workplaces exhibit signs of bullying and discrimination. Toxic work environments can be a large contributor to exhaustion and negatively affect an employee’s well-being – both in the workplace and outside. Creating and enforcing a safe environment that’s respectful and fair is not only key in combating burnout – it’s the law.

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Introduce Mental Health Initiatives

Employees suffering from burnout are likely to be in a state of mental distress. Depression, anxiety, and panic attacks are very common, and not every workplace has resources to help with mental health concerns. Introduce wellness initiatives that focus on emotional and occupational wellness, such as discounts on therapy, paid mental health days, and mindfulness training. These initiatives can help employees deal with issues such as work difficulties or improving their overall mental health. It’s easy for employees to disregard self-care when they’re feeling burnt out or stressed, but it can become a priority with an employer who encourages it.

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“The best way to solve employee burnout problems is to prevent them from happening in the first place. That means finding the right employee and onboarding them effectively. On day one, every new hire should receive a written role description and a 90-day onboarding plan that includes 30, 60, and 90-day goals, key metrics, and an assigned mentor within the company. That way, they’re an important member of the team starting from the first day on the job.”

Will Pemble Goal Boss, Coaster Dad
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89% of employees at companies that support their well-being are more likely to recommend their workplace as a good place to work.

The fight against employee burnout is never-ending, but leaders must be proactive to reduce the risk and impact of burnout as much as possible. Make your team feel valued and recognized, provide them with multiple systems of support, eliminate discrimination, and provide mental health-centered benefits.

When working with employees who are suffering or at risk of burnout, it’s key to focus on positivity. Encourage employees to speak out, make sure their work is validated and they are aware of what they are doing right. Compassionate leadership will also make your team feel equal and respected, while wellness initiatives can encourage employees to better themselves physically, emotionally, and mentally. Finally, providing flexible working conditions can help to empower employees to create a work environment that’s best for them.

Genuine care for your employees matters most, and an individual who feels valued is far less likely to suffer from the perils of work burnout.

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