the word “burnout” is often misused–especially in moments when we are feeling overwhelmed with our jobs. These moments can be eased with a bit of a break from the workplace. Unfortunately, true employee burnout is not an issue that can be fixed by taking an extra long weekend.
Burnout: here are the facts
The 2001 edition of the Annual Review of Psychology classified employee burnout as an ongoing response to persistent emotional and interpersonal stressors on the job. The Mayo Clinic further describes burnout as a special type of job stress where you may find yourself in a constant state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion–combined with doubts about the value of your work.
In 2017, 46% of adults between the ages of 18 – 29 personally knew someone who had been diagnosed with burnout.
Despite the fact that stress carries a price tag of around $300 billion annually to the US market, and more people than ever before are feeling stressed and exhausted at work, the symptoms can often go unnoticed.
Many managers say they are able to recognize the early signs of employee burnout, but they can often be looking for the wrong signals. Someone could be completely overwhelmed, mentally, and you’d never know.
Burnout often doesn’t look like what we expect it to. The huge meltdowns that we associate with work-related pressure might never even occur. And even if they do, it’s more likely to be caused by an individual stressor in a particular moment and not by the factors that have been contributing to the overall feelings of stress and anxiety. Mental burnout can often be silent, without fuss, and happening right in front of your eyes.
Top causes of employee burnout
A study by Kronos Inc., the US-based workforce management software company, found the top three contributors to employee burnout to be:
Unfair compensation (41%)
An unreasonable workload (32%)
An excess of overtime/after-hours work (32%)
When you dig into the contributors, there are other factors: unclear or “impossible to meet” requirements, high periods of stress with no downtime, a lack of recognition, poor communication and high penalties for failure. There is a lot of specific factors that can contribute to a greater risk of burnout. Not to mention, external and personal stresses, such as health problems of family members or friends, relationship issues and financial problems, can all add to these feelings of emotional and physical exhaustion.
How to recognize employee burnout
There’s a lot that managers can do to help alleviate stress. First, recognize the warning signs–which can be subtle and unassuming.
Small changes to look out for:
Disengagement from their work and colleagues
Isolating themselves from the rest of the team
These can all be indications that your employee is starting to buckle under the strain. Other more noticeable signs are:
Mistakes in their work
Noticeable signs of exhaustion such as fatigue and dark circles around the eyes
Of course, don’t jump to any conclusions. But be aware and manage these situations thoughtfully and carefully.
High Engagement, High Risk?
It’s a common misconception that burnout is prevalent in underperforming employees.
In fact, it’s usually some of your most engaged staff members that are most at risk. Employees who place a lot of pressure on themselves, who work long hours, and who are unable to delegate because of fear that the work won’t be completed to their standards, are the ones who are most likely to feel simultaneous levels of engagement and stress. This means your company is just as likely to lose an employee through hyper engagement as you would to low engagement.
Strategies to prevent burnout
Don’t worry, there’s plenty you can do to combat this kind of burnout in your organization. We’ve outlined 5 ways you can proactively address this issue and reduce employee churn.
1. Clearly define their role
Employees who feel disengaged from their job are often disengaged from their manager, their team and their company strategy. This can often be because their role has not been relayed to them effectively, and as a result, the path to success can seem very ambiguous.
One way to combat this is to ensure you have a thorough onboarding experience for your new employees. Onboarding is the perfect time to engage your employees. There are systems that can be used to make this even easier; processes, rules, successful examples of sales or customer challenges, and company culture documents that are kept regularly updated.
2. Encourage effective communication
One of the biggest factors for workplace burnout is lack of communication. Foster an environment of candid feedback with your employees. Include regular check-ins with your direct reports and ask questions, like “What is your capacity to take on another task right now?” Ensure that your employee knows that if they aren’t able to increase their workload, they can say so and not be penalized.
Communication doesn’t come easily to everyone, and some employees have to be encouraged to open up. Set regular check-ins with your employees and try to gain an understanding of how they like to receive feedback. If they don’t like directly addressing an issue, consider implementing a regular feedback survey where they can submit their thoughts which can be talked through afterward. This can often feel less intimidating and is a great way to ease some employee into an open conversation.
One of the biggest factors in workplace burnout is lack of communication.
3. Set realistic goals
Unrealistic expectations set by managers can be a huge source of stress for employees. Whether it is underestimating the toll that long hours might have on their wellbeing or assuming that your star player can take on yet another task, holding unrealistic goals over your staff members is one way to add to their daily stress load. While it’s important to challenge your employees and set aspirational objectives and goals, it’s also important to know the difference between challenging someone and overwhelming them.
Ensure that you speak to your employees about their workload and make sure that they have everything they need to do their job successfully. Match increased requests with increased resources and don’t expect increased results if you can’t provide the tools required for the job.
4. Manage their overtime
When it comes to time spent at work, don’t assume that one additional hour is no big deal. In a customer-facing role, an extra 60 minutes of work might mean 5 additional difficult customers. After a particularly long and busy day, this might just be their breaking point.
Also, making sure that your employees are fairly compensated for overtime is incredibly important. More time spent at work is less time to recharge or to spend with family and friends, so it helps to show that their time is valued.
5. Offer options to reduce financial strain
Financial stress can often be one of the main causes contributing to employee burnout. Modern life is built around on-demand convenience and fast bill cycles, yet workers are forced to wait between 14 to 28 days before they get paid. With three-quarters of hourly workers living paycheck to paycheck, it helps to give your employees access to their pay before payday.
Not being able to access their earned money can put a strain on both their mental and financial health. Some workers might opt for an overdraft or payday loan to help tide them over until they’re paid, and both of these options can come with hefty fees attached, which only adds further stress.
An instant pay solution gives employees access to the money they’ve earned almost immediately. With less money worries, and more control over their finances, your employees become more engaged, less distracted and less likely to be absent from work due to stress-related illness.