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Employee Burnout

The cost of employee burnout from a DEIB perspective

Living through a global pandemic has skyrocketed stress and anxiety in employees, exacerbating existing weaknesses in workplace support and leaving many individuals feeling exhausted from their daily routine. Although over half the US workforce currently reports experiencing some form of burnout; employees of color experience burnout syndrome at higher rates than their white colleagues.

A 2020 McKinsey report found that “in majority-white countries, Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) are especially worried about workplace health and safety, as well as career progression and balancing responsibilities at home,” noting that the disparity between BIPOC and their white counterparts in the US was “particularly stark.” 

Another McKinsey report that same year showed that companies with a dedication to diverse employees performed 36% better than those who didn’t, meaning a company that doesn’t invest in burnout support tailored for BIPOC employees loses on multiple fronts. 

Burnout for BIPOC Employees Comes From Multiple Sources

In addition to daily workplace stresses while navigating a global pandemic, employees of color also face the unique stressor of microaggressions—one their white peers don’t have to tally against their impending burnout. Microaggressions are “everyday, subtle, …interactions or behaviors that communicate some sort of bias toward historically marginalized groups” according to an NPR interview with author and activist Kevin Nadal. Because they are so often difficult to point out, microaggressions frequently go unchecked, leaving BIPOC employees feeling isolated and undervalued.

Employees of color also report feeling that their successes are often discounted at work, chalked up to a fluke or an act of favoritism rather than the talent and hard work actually on display. Not celebrating accomplishments leads to disinterested and disengaged employees who are more likely to succumb to burnout. 

Burnout Costs Organizations

The known direct and indirect costs of burnout can be high. For example, if burnout leads to turnover, it can cost an organization up to 75% of a new hire’s salary, including the recruiting, hiring, and training. That’s without calculating the loss in productivity from interrupting existing employees’ daily goals to answer questions or offer guidance.But there’s another cost specific to burnout for companies when it comes to their BIPOC team members. McKinsey found that “the most diverse companies are now more likely than ever to outperform less diverse peers on profitability.” However, despite the hard data supporting change, companies have been slow to take action, with McKinsey’s global analysis showing only a 2% increase in minority representation on executive teams in 2019. 

Essentially, the research shows that a systemic approach to building a more equitable workplace environment and practicing a commitment to diversity and inclusion yields net positive results, but every branch of an organization must be committed to that inclusion—including supporting BIPOC individuals who may be at risk of burnout. 

Managers Need Infrastructure to Support BIPOC Employee Burnout and Mental Wellness

The support needed to reduce burnout and improve mental wellness in employees of color should be tailored to their needs. HR leaders and managers seeking to support their BIPOC team members struggling with burnout should have a solid understanding of:

  • Who they are
  • What personal factors might be impacting their current mental wellness
  • What burnout triggers may have been tripped, and 
  • Where on the burnout scale the individual may be. 

Managers will need training to hone these observational skills and to offer a supportive environment for discussing mental health in the workplace. Companies serious about a systemic approach to improved work experiences for employees of color should improve the offerings for HR leader and manager training, focusing on ways to reach out, offer support, and ease daily stresses for team members. 

Organizations should also work to foster belonging for those with varied lived experiences. Employee Resource Groups (ERGs), when expertly led by fairly compensated internal employees, is one resource for improving inclusivity. Finally one of the most important ways companies can support their BIPOC is by ensuring that the mental health benefits they offer look at the whole picture of a person’s daily stressors and what unique support is needed for those experiences. 
If you'd like to learn how to improve turnover and employee retention metrics, and build a workplace culture that support mental well-being, download our new eBook Employee Retention Strategies for Organizational Success, below.

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Cynthia Castro Sweet, PhD

Dr. Cynthia Castro Sweet is the senior director of clinical research at Modern Health.