With the World Health Organization officially declaring burnout an occupational phenomenon in 2019, and the epidemic of quiet-quitting hitting newsstands in 2022, it’s clear that employers need to find a solution to this pressing issue more now than ever.
What is employee burnout?
Employee burnout is defined by Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health as a state of physical or mental exhaustion caused by workplace stress or excessive work hours.
The WHO characterizes burnout as feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion; increased mental distance from one’s job or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and reduced professional efficacy.
Are employers responsible for burnout?
Many employers may simply think of burnout as the responsibility of employees, rectified by taking on less work or adopting stress relief practices. However, with the WHO officially describing burnout as “chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed”, it is becoming more apparent that the responsibility of burnout is in fact in the hands of employers.
Despite the negative impacts of burnout and its growing prevalence in society, though, employers who build their workplace culture around certain best practices will be able to keep burnout out of their work environment.
What causes employee burnout?
The first step towards employee burnout prevention is understanding what its underlying causes are.
Work-related stress is the first and most obvious cause of burnout. An overwhelming workload, an increased job demand combined with a lack of recognition or feedback, and a loss of faith in leadership, are all factors contributing to burnout.
Another cause of burnout is personality factors. Due to their tendency to take on more work, employees who are over-achievers or perfectionists are more prone to burnout than others.
An imbalance between work and home life is also a contributing factor. If an employee is struggles to balance their home life and work life, their likelihood of burnout is higher.
What are the impacts of burnout?
Workplace burnout can have many negative consequences on your employee’s mental health, manifesting in increased anxiety, frequent absences, and poor quality of work.
When employees feel overwhelmed, they may tend to rush through tasks, increasing the likelihood of errors. Alternatively, employees may begin slacking off altogether. An increase in absenteeism and employee turnover are common and costly consequences of excessive burnout.
In addition to impacting employees, burnout also affects workplace culture and morale, as suffering employees often influence their colleagues. Additionally, employers who let go of burnt-out staff can create a snowball effect on the mental health of other staff members, who are forced to absorb their colleague’s workload while also fearing similar ramifications.
What are the signs of employee burnout?
To protect your business from burnout, it’s crucial that your organization knows how to identify when it’s occurring. Catching burnout before it becomes a problem is one of the most important steps in preventing the phenomenon from happening in the workplace.
Signs that an employee is experiencing burnout include:
- General signs of exhaustion—physical, mental, or emotional
- Decreased productivity and more errors in work
- Irritability, sensitivity, or argumentativeness
- Disengagement or detachment from conversations or projects
- Consistent long hours or absenteeism
How can employers manage employee burnout?
Employers who notice signs of employee burnout should take immediate steps to prevent it from continuing. Here are nine ways to stop burnout in the workplace before it becomes an issue.
Be conscious of workloads
Employees allocated with more work than they can reasonably manage may feel like they can never get on top of things, which can quickly lead to feelings of failure and poor self-esteem. Avoid overworking employees by creating reasonable and fair workloads and monitoring employee productivity. Managers who notice a decline in employee performance should be aware that this could be a sign for help.
To stay on top of burnout, employers need to ensure they are checking in with their employees as much as possible. Regular meetings to touch base with employees and see how they’re coping with their workload is crucial in the early detection of burnout. By listening to employees, employees can take action depending on where the root of the problem lies.
Promote paid time off
Encouraging employees to take time off and recharge is a key component of reducing burnout. Employees taking regular time off will protect their mental health and productivity in the long term and allow them to return refreshed and rejuvenated.
To promote this culture, employers should allow ample paid time off, and frequently communicate that they advocate for this. If employers notice an employee hasn’t taken time off in a while, encourage them to do so and check in with them.
Advocate for mental health
Employees are more prone to burnout if they have poor mental health—and vice versa. As employers strive to minimize burnout, they should adopt a holistic approach by advocating for mental wellness. To do this, employers should encourage employees to take mental health days whenever necessary and communicate that they support this.
Where possible, employers should try and offer a flexible working environment. Allowing employees ‘flextime’ can allow them to accommodate their personal and professional needs in addition to work. By being more flexible, employers can alleviate stress and create a supportive environment, lowering the risk of burnout.
One of the key symptoms of burnout is cynicism associated with not feeling like the work is being recognized. Making sure that your employees know they are appreciated is a crucial component of reducing burnout, especially if they are working harder than usual. By celebrating your employee’s success, employers can build positive self-esteem in the workplace, and boost morale.
Another leading cause of burnout is employers giving preferential treatment to certain employees, creating unfairness in the workplace. Credit that is given to someone else for work that wasn’t done by that employee can not only breed resentment and low morale but also decrease motivation. To stop this from happening, employers should give recognition and credit when it is due, and ensure pay equality and fair promotions.
Empower your employees
Excluding certain colleagues from having a say in decision-making is another contributing factor to burnout. To combat this, employers should try and empower employees wherever possible. Employers should challenge their team members, give them opportunities to advance in their careers check in with them regularly about their career goals, apply the same criteria to all employees, encourage taking classes (by offering workshops, job-related training, or subsidizing tuition fees), and always give them a platform to succeed wherever possible.
Create a positive environment
Whether it’s having monthly office outings, going out for lunch for colleagues’ birthdays, or hosting a Halloween dress-up competition, ensuring that the office has regular aspects of fun built into its calendar is also important to boost morale and reduce burnout.
Get professional HR support for your small business
The more society learns about burnout, the more obvious it is becoming that reducing the phenomenon in the workplace is the employer’s responsibility. Improving employee well-being and productivity will ultimately be beneficial for your bottom line.
Our HR experts can assist you with company policies, and with any other HR, health & safety or employment matters that arise. To learn more about how our services can benefit your business, call an expert today at 1(833) 247-3652.