Employee Burnout Is at an All-Time High. Here are 5 Tips to Combat It

5 tips for combatting employee burnout in the workplace.

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While burnout is not a new phenomenon, the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem.

Are you seeing less effort from your employees than before? Is coming in late to work the norm or do you hear colleagues at the watercooler talk about feeling exhausted at the end of the day? If you’re chalking all these issues up to the pandemic, think again.

Employee burnout is reaching an all-time high. In March, Indeed released results from a survey on employee burnout that found that 52% of respondents felt burned out. Another 67% — more than two-thirds of respondents! — believe that their burnout has gotten worse during the pandemic. What’s more, those who work virtually are more likely to report that their burnout has worsened since the pandemic began, compared to 28% of respondents who continued working on site. Chances are that this difference has a lot to do with how hard it can be to truly unplug from work when working from home.

While the reality of pandemic-related burnout is complicated and multifaceted, and solving it may not be simple or straightforward, it’s important to address the causes of burnout over which you have some control. Let’s examine some of the contributing factors to employee burnout and five ways that managers can help prevent it.

While the reality of pandemic-related burnout is complicated and multifaceted, and solving it may not be simple or straightforward, it’s important to address the causes of burnout over which you have some control.

What is employee burnout? What does it look like?

We all get burned out from time to time due to the stresses of life in general or specific aspects of work or school. Employee burnout specifically deals with work-related stress and Mayo Clinic defines employee burnout as “a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that also involves a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.”

Why does employee burnout matter?

While the causes of job burnout are unclear, what is known is that burnout has mental and physical health consequences, as well as occupational impacts as well.

A 2017 research study found that burnout is a significant predictor of several adverse health outcomes, ranging from type 2 diabetes to heart disease and prolonged fatigue. Mentally, burnout can trigger insomnia and depressive symptoms. On the job, burnout can manifest as job dissatisfaction, absenteeism, and presenteeism (when employees are physically present but low functioning because of their condition or situation).

Tips for preventing employee burnout

Just as small businesses have unique needs, they are similarly able to provide unique solutions, too. Here are some ways small businesses have tried to prevent employee burnout:

Stop it before it starts. “At Eyedo, we combat employee burnout by nipping it in the bud before it even becomes a problem,” says Ronen Yemini, founder of Eyedo. He does this by offering PTO, sick leave, and mental wellness leave.

“It allows employees to look after themselves without feeling guilty or like they’re wasting their other leave,” he adds. “If an employee has done many days of overtime, we will give them an extra day of PTO to compensate, as well as being paid for their overtime. We find these strategies help to prevent employee burnout before it even begins.”

Talk to your employees — and listen. “I encourage my team leaders to seek out feedback and to make sure they actively listen,” says Jason Brown, founder and CEO of ApprovedCosts.com. Not only does this show employees that they’re valuable, but it sets the stage for any conversations they might need to bring up about their burnout and what they need to address it.

Just because your employees feel heard doesn’t mean that every subject is easy to talk about.

Create an honest and transparent company culture around mental health. Just because your employees feel heard doesn’t mean that every subject is easy to talk about. By focusing on transparency around mental health, mortgage broker Alan Harder encourages an environment in which his employees feel safe and welcome bringing up mental health issues with management.

“When an employee is overworked and on the verge of burnout, they may believe that bringing it up with their bosses is too personal,” he says. “It’s critical to establish open lines of communication about mental health in the workplace and to reassure employees that they can address problems without fear of retaliation — from coworkers and managers alike.”

Make burnout reduction a management issue. “When you deliberately choose great leaders, they develop patterns of providing guidance, encouragement, and assistance, as well as assisting staff in striking the proper work-life balance,” says Olivia Tan of CocoFax.

By selecting excellent managers who understand that their job is just as much about managing their employee’s happiness as their performance, they’ll naturally cultivate a workplace that minimizes burnout.

Allow for short-notice time off. The thing with employee burnout is that it can come at you fast. Employees might not realize they need a day off until that day has arrived. In order to accommodate that need, Milosz Krasinski, managing director at Chilli Fruit, has introduced what he calls “duvet days.”

He explains that, “three times a year, each employee may choose to take a day off (in addition to their normal annual leave) without the usual notice if they feel that they just need a break,” he says. “Feedback from my employees is that this has really helped them to cope with what has been a strange and unsettling situation” this year.

What to do if your employee is burned out?

There are two things to do when you have a burned out employee. First, find ways to give the person the time off and other support needed to recharge. Second, figure out what led to that burnout in the first place and construct ways to prevent it from happening again in the future — both with that individual employee and across the company.

Burnout is not new, but the pandemic has certainly exacerbated it. Now is the time to evaluate how your employees are doing, how burned out they are, and to begin putting systems in place to better mitigate employee burnout. If you don’t, your team will eventually start eyeing the door and you’ll find yourself struggling to keep talent.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Burnout is defined as physical or emotional exhaustion and often has a negative impact on employee performance.
  • The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the problem of employee burnout.
  • While the causes of burnout are complex, it’s important to address workplace issues to mitigate burnout.
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