Employee Burnout: Signs, Causes and Cures
Understanding employee burnout signs, causes, and cures can save your company billions of dollars in employee retention and health care costs. From April ‘21 to June ‘21, there was a 60% increase in searches containing “how to write a resignation letter,” according to the 2021 Google Year In Search Report. Employees are not only stressed, but they are burned out, as well.
Definitions of Stress & Burnout
Stress is our brain’s built-in response to danger. Employee stress levels are at an all-time high. Nearly half of employees report they "always/often" feel exhausted and stressed, according to a recent survey by Deloitte.
Burnout is a more serious, special type of chronic stress. In 2019, even before the pandemic began, the World Health Organization (WHO) classified burnout as an occupational phenomenon. WHO defines burnout as a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress, that’s characterized by feelings of exhaustion or energy depletion, negative or cynical feelings related to a job, and reduced professional efficacy.
“Burnout is a bone-tired, soul-tired, heart-tired kind of exhaustion.” — J. Pennebaker, social psychologist, professor, and author
Employee Burnout Signs & Causes
Managers should watch for the following employee burnout signs:
- Critical & cynical attitudes
- Irritability & impatience
- Lack of focus
- Missed deadlines
- Emotional exhaustion / physical exhaustion
- Indifference; lack of employee engagement
- Negative body language, such as avoidance of eye contact or, a forced smile
- Changes in physical health; mental health issues; substance abuse
A survey of 7,500 full-time employees by Gallup found the top five causes for burnout are:
- Unfair treatment at work
- Unmanageable workload
- Unclear job expectations
- Poor communication and lack of support from manager
- Unreasonable time constraints
Immediately start making changes, as soon as you spot signs of employee burnout. You must be proactive. Knowing the root cause or factors is the best way to thwart the problem, so dig in and learn what you can. Determine the ways in which the work environment needs to change, so you can retain valuable employees and reduce health care costs. A positive, caring culture empowers employees to do their best, remain loyal employees, and be happier and healthier overall.
Employee Burnout Cures
Be sure to distinguish between short-term coping mechanisms versus employee burnout cures. A quick pep talk with a disengaged burned-out employee is just a band-aid fix. You need to address the overall causes of the dissonance or fatigue. You must change the work environment by taking the important first step of discovery. Dive straight into the root source of the burnout reasons to then find the solutions. Here are several cures for some of the most common job burnout causes:
Open, honest communication is key to curing employee burnout.
- Encourage team members to talk to you and/or your HR department.
- Immediately report unfair treatment, such as bullying, unethical behavior, and discrimination to your HR Department. Do this before it gets out of hand, leading to a mass exodus of employees. Unfortunately, I know firsthand how this can easily happen. The bully’s behavior, the root cause, was not addressed. This resulted in many long-term, dedicated, successful professionals leaving the company.
- Actively promote your company’s EAP (Employee Assistance Program). Your direct reports have free, confidential access to professional help. A licensed counselor will lend additional support and offer a new perspective to those who are experiencing employee burnout.
“These mountains that you are carrying, you were only supposed to climb.” — Najwa Zebian, activist, author, poet, educator, and speaker
- Managers should make it a priority to always be communicating, assessing, and mentoring.
- All employees should have a copy of their job description. Unclear job expectations may cause confusion, frustration, and anxiety. Talk about responsibilities in detail and be clear about deadlines.
- Assignments should complement strengths, experience, and career path. Don’t expect a recent college graduate to lead a major, new initiative.
- Watch out for heavy workloads. Help set priorities and time management.
- Explain the big picture, so team members understand the “why” behind pressing priorities and the role they play in the company’s success.
- Provide additional tools. For example, several computer monitors will help with efficiency and make some jobs easier.
- Implement a flexible work schedule for those struggling with a newborn baby or aging parents, etc.
Effective leaders should take the time to acknowledge good work. Always tell team members what a great job they did, when warranted. Recognition boosts individual employee engagement, which then increases productivity and loyalty. This leads to higher retention. Recognition also reinforces a sense of meaning and purpose among team members.
Seventy-four percent of those who say their team receives praise also strongly agree they “have the feeling that what (they are) doing at work is valuable and useful,” states a recent study by Gallop. Employees are more engaged when they understand the company’s goals are tied to their job.
I will never forget when my former manager recognized my hard work and dedication. The company paid the awards entry fee for the signage campaign I led. We won a POPAI award for Best in Industry. I still proudly display the trophy, and another is displayed in the corporate office lobby. A small recognition made a significant impact. I remained at the employer for over 20 years.
Maintain a Work-Life Balance
Emphasize to all team members that they don’t need to sacrifice their personal life to be successful.
“The wise rest at least as hard as they work.” — Mokokoma Mokhonoana, philosopher and writer
Here are ways effective leaders can help relieve job stress and prevent burnout:
- Set boundaries:
- No emails or texts after business hours
- No lunch meetings
- No long hours
- No unreasonable time constraints on projects
- Encourage time blocking for walks, relaxing, reading, or mindful breathing
- Promote self-care... ME time:
- Offer quiet rooms in the office
- Provide a discount on gym memberships
- Offer yoga classes
- Schedule a massage therapist on-site monthly
- Offer tips on healthy eating and exercise
- Offer half-day Fridays, if work is completed
- Encourage taking PTO to fully detach and spend quality time with family members and friends/vacation/hobbies
“Keep the yoga, the resilience training, and the mindfulness classes — they are all terrific tools for optimizing mental health and managing stress. But, when it comes to employee burnout, remember — it’s on you leaders, not them.” — Excerpt from Harvard Business Review by Jennifer Moss, workplace expert, international public speaker, award-winning journalist, Unlocking Happiness at Work and The Burnout Epidemic.
Refining employees' skill sets and offering an employee training and development program are best practices for any company. Employees feel valued and appreciated. They know you feel they are worth the time and money investment.
HSI’s Business Skills library has all the courses you need to curate a curriculum that identifies and addresses employee burnout.
A manager may find it beneficial to watch training courses on:
- Promoting Your EAP
- Creating a Culture of Gratitude
- Understanding Stress & Burnout
- Women at Work: Stress & Burnout
- Stress Management: Breaking the Stress Cycle
- The Toxic Work Environment: Fixing a Toxic Workplace
From a company perspective, you might ask employees experiencing stress or symptoms of job burnout to watch courses on:
- Using Your EAP
- Staying Positive
- Take a Deep Breath
- Cultivating Gratitude
- Maintaining Mental Health
- Optimizing Work-Life Balance
- Making Your Work More Meaningful
Many of our clients open their HSI training library to their employees for self-directed learning. This helps circumvent the lack of control burned-out employees feel. Employees can choose off-the-shelf training video courses best suited for their unique needs. Sign up for a free trial of our HSI LMS. You will have access to our Business Skills library, to watch any of the courses mentioned. Enjoy watching two of our HSI training videos now.
- How to Stop Feeling Overwhelmed at Work: Understand Stress and Burnout
- 8 Red Flags of Disengaged Employees and Solutions to Re-Engage
- 10 Signs of a Toxic Workplace: A Checklist for Managers
- Concern for Employee Health at Home