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Whether you call it quiet quitting, disengagement, or laziness, these behaviors are often symptoms of the same problem: employee burnout. Burnout is a global crisis that affects 50% of employees and 53% of managers worldwide.
Employees everywhere are getting tired of the stress, pressure, and daily grind at work. However, despite popular opinion, burnout isn’t a problem you can “fix”—the only real solutions for burnout focus on helping the people themselves, such as really listening to employees, focusing on work-life balance, clearing expectations, and creating a wholesome culture.
If you focus on improving your employees’ lives, burnout will more than likely resolve itself. But before we get into the solutions, let’s get some context on what burnout really is.
What Is Employee Burnout?
The World Health Organization defines burnout as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. In our terms, burnout is the feeling of unhappiness and disengagement that comes after regular feelings of stress.
Now, you may already be worrying about juggling high expectations for your employees with avoiding burnout. But here’s the kicker: burnout rarely has to do with expectations for hard work, responsibility, and high performance—the main factors of burnout actually have to do with how someone is managed.
The 5 Factors That Lead to Burnout
Managing employees effectively is hard, and ineffective strategies often cause burnout. According to a study by Gallup, here are the five factors that correlate closest with employee burnout:
- Unfair treatment at work. If employees feel that they’re treated with bias or rudeness, or if they feel they’re the victim of favoritism, they can quickly burnout. Unfair compensation or corporate policies can cause the same feelings.
- Unreliable communication and support. Employees need to feel supported and cared for at work. When employees really feel like their manager has their back, they’re 70% less likely to experience burnout. But negligent managers make employees stressed, alone, and uninformed.
- Unmanageable workload. This is a big one. Managers obviously want to help employees grow and gain more skills, but dumping too much work on someone who isn’t prepared is a one-way ticket to burnout. Managers need to work closely with each employee to find out what responsibilities they can and can’t handle.
- Unreasonable time expectations. Unreasonable time constraints or pressure lead to burnout. Managers need to understand how quickly employees can work and how much time each project realistically takes to complete at a high quality. If they don’t, aggressive deadlines will quickly stack on top of each other, magnifying stress and burnout exponentially.
- Unclear role responsibilities. This can be a cause of burnout from day one. According to Gallup, 40% of workers aren’t sure what’s expected of them at work. Even if an employee wants to excel, they’re hampered by a lack of role clarity. That can be a huge trigger for stress and eventual burnout.
By improving these factors, burnout can be alleviated, engagement will improve, and employee happiness and satisfaction will grow.
Symptoms of Burnout to Watch Out For
While each person will react to feeling burned out in different ways, there are a few signs that you can watch out for to catch it early:
- Employees making uncharacteristic or unusual mistakes
- Employees taking more sick days than usual
- Employees not participating in meetings or attending get-togethers like they used to
- Employees acting more irritable or hostile at work
- Employees feeling exhausted or tired at work
Keep your eyes open, and watch out for these signs. If you see employees who may manifest some of these symptoms, it may be time to pull them aside and ask about their workload, their responsibilities, and their happiness levels.
Why Do You Need to Worry About Burnout?
Burnout has some major consequences for your workforce, including a 2.6 greater chance of quitting, a 63% greater chance of taking a sick day, and a 13% drop in their confidence at work. Employees struggle with depleted energy levels and exhaustion; they grow mentally distant from their job and coworkers; and they lose efficiency and efficacy in their professional capacities.
In short, burnout makes employees less happy, less productive, and less likely to stay at your company.
What Can Employers Do to Help Employee Burnout?
Burnout isn’t unavoidable. It’s not a regular part of business. You CAN help your employees improve their mental health, their engagement, and their stress levels. Even if an entire team is struggling with burnout, there are ways managers and leaders can help. Here are some of the best strategies to help your people and teams avoid feeling burned out.
Talk and Really Listen
Communication is key to avoiding burnout (and avoiding all sorts of other workplace issues, honestly). When employees feel like their manager is willing to listen to their work-related issues, they’re 62% less likely to get burned out.
Managers need to talk with their employees, get to know them, and learn about their preferred workload, management styles, etc. Empathize with them and help support them in any way that you possibly can.
Focus on Work-Life Balance
Burnout, in its simplest form, is getting stressed from overwork. To avoid that, you need to ensure that employees have the time they need to unwind, take care of their families, and recharge.
If work takes away from family life, employees may get stressed about details and relationships in their personal lives, which, in effect, burns the candle at both ends. That will greatly increase burnout. So make sure employees are working to live instead of living to work.
Make Expectations Clear
Clarifying role responsibilities, goals, and expectations can take a huge weight off employees’ shoulders. If employees don’t know how to succeed, or don’t even know what they should be doing with their time each day, burnout is sure to follow.
Communicate expectations and workload with each employee and frequently check in with them to ask how they’re doing, whether they’re confused, or anything like that.
Crack Down on Overwork
If employees or teams are regularly working late, working on weekends, or taking on other teams’ work, burnout is sure to follow. The correlation between working long hours and feeling burned out is extremely strong.
Make sure your work flow is set up in such a way as to not require employees to work more than they’re supposed to. Rethink your company culture to kill the “grind” mindset—instead, focus on mental wellbeing and personal productivity.
Create a Wholesome Environment
It’s difficult for employees to be happy in a culture that puts pressure on them, punishes them for mistakes, or allows harassment or interpersonal friction. Instead, cultivate a culture that’s the opposite of these issues. No undue pressure, forgiveness of any mistakes, zero-tolerance of harassment or bullying, and understanding of interpersonal problems.
You can’t transform a culture overnight, but making small changes can immediately improve feelings of burnout in your employees.
Put Out the Burnout Wildfire
Stress and burnout affect over half of our employees, but this is an avoidable issue. With clear communication, helpful support, a healthy culture, and a focus on work-life balance, you can make sure employees are excited about work. You can help them minimize stress and give their best, day after day. And the best part is, you don’t have to lower your expectations for your employees—instead, you’ll help push them to greater heights in a healthy way.