Workplace burnout is a term resonating across all industries and companies. Yet, there's still a lot of opportunity to address burnout.
Workplace burnout is a term resonating across all industries and companies. Yet, many employers don't fully understand the nuances of employee burnout and how deeply it affects their teams.
Employee burnout is defined by symptoms related to unaddressed chronic stress. The condition is not likely to go away without a systemic approach to change.
While employees experience stress from experiences inside and outside the workplace, specific conditions drive employee burnout. When these issues are left unaddressed, production and engagement decrease, resulting in rapid turnover.
To avoid creating a burnout cycle that promotes continuous employee churn, employers will benefit from taking steps to address the root causes of burnout and provide effective solutions. However, recognizing employee burnout is not always easy. During the early stages of burnout, employees may not even realize they are experiencing it.
To address employee burnout, employers will need to learn to recognize the symptoms and define the underlying causes in their company.
The World Health Organization (WHO) officially defined workplace burnout as "a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." Symptoms include exhaustion, increased mental distance and negativity towards one's job, and reduced professional efficacy.
It's important to note that burnout isn't derived from workplace stress alone but from stress that has not been successfully managed. Chronic stress left untreated can cause employees to become depressed, anxious, and distracted, which impacts work and personal relationships. It generally does not occur due to a single incident but results from workplace stressors that continue over time without any resolution.
Modern workplaces are increasingly fast-paced and demanding to maintain or exceed customer expectations. As a result, employees often feel forced to meet unrealistic expectations and consistently increase their tolerance. Employees often carry these heavy loads without necessary support until they reach a breaking point where burnout becomes evident.
Employees who feel mistreated at work are 2.3 times more likely to experience a high level of burnout. Unfair treatment comes in various forms, including bias, discrimination, favoritism, mistreatment from coworkers or management, and inconsistently applied compensation.
No matter where it comes from in the workplace, unfair treatment results in a loss of trust that breaks the psychological bond that makes work meaningful. Ongoing toxic behavior (actions that make employees feel undervalued, belittled, or unsafe), like unfair treatment in the workplace, undermines employees' psychological safety and sense of belonging.
Trust is lost when upper management fails to share adequate information about assignments, company news, or important policies. When employees are unsure about what's expected of them, the duties they need to perform, or how to do their job correctly, they become frustrated.
Too much time and effort is spent determining what the manager wants instead of completing responsibilities. As a result, employers work harder than they should, and production declines.
Manager support is central to preventing burnout. Our studies show that 74% of employees want their employer to care about their mental health, but only 53% of employees feel they actually do.
Supportive managers who listen to their employees' needs and encourage them provide a psychological buffer that helps prevent burnout. When managers display behavior that suggests they don't care about employees, burnout is more likely to occur.
Employees who strongly agree that they always have too much to do are 2.2 times more likely to say they experience burnout. Increased hours and heavier workloads have an impact on the way employees view work. Even high-performing employees who are engaged in their roles experience burnout.
The previously mentioned Modern Health study revealed that while 76% of high performers are enthusiastic about their jobs, 56% are burned out in their current roles. Employees can quickly become overwhelmed when work feels burdensome or endless, regardless of their engagement levels.
Employees who often or always have enough time to do all of their work are 70% less likely to experience high burnout. Unreasonable deadlines and pressure create increased stress.
They can also have a snowball effect by contributing to the delay of other projects. Even when employees meet unreasonable demands, burnout can be around the corner due to unsustainable conditions.
A key part of supporting mental health is awareness of how your employees feel. While many employers may understand the causes and effects of burnout, spotting the symptoms can be difficult.
These are a few red flags that could be indicators of employee burnout.
Physical symptoms of exhaustion might be easy to notice. For instance, a lively employee may become withdrawn and exhibit low energy. An employee known for arriving to work early might start coming in late.
Fatigue does not always manifest notable symptoms. Instead, employees may mention symptoms of fatigue like sleep troubles, feeling drained or foggy, and having headaches.
Employee engagement can be challenging to define. Yet, when an employee becomes disengaged, changes in behavior might be noticeable.
For instance, a decline in work quality can be a red flag. Generally, lower enthusiasm or detached behaviors like a remote employee suddenly showing up to meetings off-camera are also symptoms of disengagement.
This is one of the most common signs of burnout and can serve as an early indicator. Employees may have trouble focusing and generally seem less efficient. As burnout increases, mistakes are common, and employees take longer to complete tasks.
Burnout can result in higher stress levels recognized through specific behaviors. For instance, increased absences can indicate burnout.
Changes in behavior at work are also common. These may include decreased participation, higher sensitivity to feedback, and negative or irritable behavior.
It’s important to recognize the signs above as potential indicators of burnout and not simply as performance problems that may result in punitive action. When you've identified burnout in your team, it can be tempting to jump right in with possible solutions for the problem. However, fixing the symptom won't address the underlying causes of burnout on your team.
Taking these steps can help you find the right path to help your employees deal with burnout.
Studies have shown that employers often fail to understand the levels at which their employees are coping. For instance, as mentioned in previous research findings, 71% of employers believe their employees feel encouraged to take time off for mental health needs like therapy, while only 46% of employees actually feel that way.
Have one-on-one conversations with employees to address well-being more effectively. Approach the conversation cautiously, and with curiosity, without accusing, to ensure your employees feel safe to share. Avoid assuming you know the problem and ask questions to help employees open up about feeling overwhelmed.
As an employer, you should be a natural advocate for your team. As such, your actions should clearly demonstrate you care about your employees' health and well-being. Consider how your interactions with employees can reduce the stress that leads to burnout.
Try creating agreements with your team instead of communicating with demands and expectations. Let employees know it's fine to address feeling overworked and encourage them to speak up so arrangements can be made to reduce workloads or create more flexible schedules. Avoid creating demanding overtime schedules, and don't make every task feel like a fire drill.
Nearly 80% of employees believe that they can successfully avoid severe mental health conditions or clinical-level care if they routinely prioritize their mental health, and 79% would be more likely to stay with a company that provides high-quality mental health benefits. When you provide your employees with accessible resources to take care of their mental health, you can increase resilience and proactively address burnout.
By encouraging employees to use external mental health resources, you can eliminate the stigma surrounding mental health care and improve the culture in your workplace.
Everyone experiences stress differently. Frustration in the workplace is common for both managers and employees. Working through challenges with your employees as part of a team is important instead of creating a divide. Recognize that employee burnout is not a personal failing but a chance to move forward with a different roadmap.
By showing empathy and compassion for your employees, you can create a sense of belonging that makes them feel heard. What is best for your employees is ultimately what's best for your company. Making them a priority will help you reach your goals.
The best leaders inspire their employees to follow their path. Model setting boundaries and demonstrate respect when your team refuses to take on extra tasks when they are already carrying a heavy workload.
Share your feelings about becoming overwhelmed, so your employees can recognize your vulnerabilities and be more willing to share their own. Take time off to show the value of relaxation and time away from work so your employees can feel comfortable taking their own paid time off.
Employee burnout is becoming more and more common. When employers encourage teams to prioritize their mental health, employees are less likely to face extreme burnout and seek new employment opportunities.
Although 79% of employees are more likely to stay with a company that provides high-quality mental health benefits, fewer than 1 in 3 employees enrolled in any mental health benefits feel that it meets their needs. To learn more about the real causes of burnout, how it affects employees, and the best solutions for organizations, teams, and individuals, download the Modern Health playbook Taking Care of Burnout.
Modern Health is the comprehensive mental wellness platform that combines the WHO well-being assessment, self-service wellness kits, an international network of certified coaches, and licensed therapists available in 35 languages all in a single app. Modern Health empowers employers to lead the charge in acknowledging that mental health is just as important as physical health, de-stigmatizing the conversation, and increasing accessibility of mental health services for all.
Modern Health’s clinically-designed substance use support addresses the entire spectrum of needs, providing proactive detection and outreach, comprehensive clinical treatment, specialized care coordination for members with high-acuity needs, and evidence-based preventative care and education.
Lydia Wright, Senior Manager of Global Benefits at Atlassian, and Emma Woodburn, Benefits Specialist at Intel, join Modern Health at Elevate 2022 to discuss how culturally centered care and engagement campaigns in preferred languages and time zones significantly boosts employee benefit utilization.