The piles of work seem to grow while your energy depletes. You dread the work day before it even starts. You can’t stay focused on your tasks — no matter how hard you work to be productive. Sound familiar? If so, you’ve probably experienced burnout at some point in your career.
And you’re not alone. According to a recent workforce pulse survey, 40% of workers reported feelings of burnout. And a Deloitte survey of 1,000 full-time, U.S. employees found that 18% of professionals feel stressed or frustrated at work every day.
Burnout is a very real occupational phenomenon that can affect your employees’ wellbeing, psychological safety, and ability to turn in quality work. But you can take steps to prevent burnout by creating an inclusive, healthy work environment.
What is Employee Burnout?
Employee burnout is a condition of mental, physical, and emotional exhaustion caused by prolonged stress, helplessness, and loss of control at work. It’s often characterized by feelings of hopelessness, fatigue, irritability, cynicism, difficulty focusing, and decreased productivity. Burnout can even lead to more serious issues like depression or other mental health concerns.
The World Health Organization defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” Importantly, burnout isn't just synonymous with overwork – it can also stem from a lack of control over workload, conflicting job demands, and poor work-life wellness.
Causes of Employee Burnout
Burnout can be caused by a variety of factors in the workplace: long hours, lack of autonomy, feeling undervalued or unrecognized for your work. These are some of the root causes of job burnout:
- Toxic workplace dynamics: Toxic workplaces are breeding grounds for burnout. One McKinsey survey found that when employees report high levels of toxic behavior at work, they're more likely to feel burnt out. Unhealthy power dynamics, lack of trust in the workplace, and feelings of competition or insecurity can all contribute to a toxic work environment.
- Lack of support and resources: When employees don’t have the right tools or resources to do their jobs, they can become overwhelmed and unmotivated. Poor or ineffective management can also cause employees to feel the same way, contributing to burnout.
- Unrealistic job expectations: Setting unrealistic expectations or deadlines can put a lot of unnecessary stress on employees, making them feel like they’re failing no matter how hard they work. Thirty percent of employees responding to a Deloitte survey agreed that unrealistic expectations for deadlines or results were a contributor to burnout.
- Overwhelming or heavy workloads: Taking on too much work can be detrimental to employees’ wellbeing and often leads to a poor work-life balance, as employees feel the pressure to work overtime.Twenty-nine percent of respondents to Deloitte's survey said the biggest driver of burnout was "consistently working long hours or on weekends."
- Frustrating processes and communications: Frustrating processes, unclear job roles, and inadequate communication can all disrupt an employee's workflow and lead to job fatigue. Unclear and inconsistent communication is one of the top causes of burnout, according to Gallup.
Signs of Employee Burnout
Burnout can manifest itself differently in each person. Some signs are obvious, while others may be subtler. Here are some of the most common symptoms of burnout:
- Lack of motivation or enthusiasm: Burned out employees often lack energy, job satisfaction, and enthusiasm for their work and find it difficult to stay motivated. They may become apathetic and apolitical, avoiding conversations or collaboration.
- Decreased productivity and performance: Workplace burnout often leads to decreased productivity, as employees take longer to complete tasks and make more mistakes. Employees experiencing burnout suffered 32% lower productivity and 60% reduced ability to focus, according to a Future Forum survey.
- Changes in behavior: Burned out employees may become irritable, isolated, moody, or withdrawn. You might start to notice that they're withdrawing from the team, since burnt out employees are twice as likely to feel disconnected from company values, their managers, and their colleagues.
- Physical exhaustion: Employee stress and burnout can manifest itself in physical symptoms like chronic fatigue, headaches, changes to sleep patterns, or even stomachaches. You might notice this in the form of absenteeism as workers take sick days for self-care.
- Employee turnover: Many employees who are burnt out look for a new job, so if you're experiencing a lot of attrition in your workplace, that could be a leading indicator.
How to Prevent Employee Burnout
Burnout is a serious issue that needs to be addressed as soon as possible to protect your employees and they are capable of fully engaging both in their work. Here's what you can do to prevent burnout among your workforce:
- Create balanced workloads: Make sure your employees aren't taking on too much work. To prevent burnout, it’s important to create a balanced workload for each employee, reassigning projects where needed, and giving them adequate time to complete tasks.
- Address toxic behaviors: Because toxic company cultures are a leading cause of burnout, it's important to curb those behaviors and help repeat offenders change before toxicity spreads. Make sure you have a clear code of conduct in place and that employees and leaders are held accountable for their behavior.
- Encourage breaks: Encouraging regular breaks is key to preventing burnout. Employees need time away from their desks to refuel and recharge so they can come back to work feeling refreshed.
- Support psychological safety: Psychological safety refers to a workplace environment where employees don’t feel threatened or judged when they take risks and express ideas. This can make them more willing to collaborate, innovate, and speak up when needed, and it’s been found to be associated with reduced burnout.
- Empower employees through autonomy: Allow employees to have autonomy over their workloads and how they approach tasks, and invite them into the decision-making process with leadership. Giving them more control can help boost employee engagement and spark a greater sense of purpose at work.
- Train managers to recognize burnout: Managers should be trained to recognize the signs of burnout in their own employees before it becomes a full-blown problem. They should also be equipped with the tools and resources needed to support employees who are experiencing burnout.
- Invest in employee growth: Investing in employee growth is a great way to prevent burnout, as long as you show the benefits to employees directly. Developing your employees’ skills not only makes them more successful, but it also helps boost their self-confidence and can help prevent work from feeling monotonous.
Burnout is an Employee Wellness Issue
Burnout is, at its core, an employee health issue because it wreaks havoc on an employee’s mental and physical wellbeing. Although fostering a supportive and safe workplace culture is crucial to managing burnout, it’s also important to support employees holistically and provide access to wellness resources.
But there’s still a good number of employees who feel they aren’t getting that support: 21% say their company doesn’t offer any incentives or programs to help alleviate feelings of burnout. You can offer a better experience to your team members by crafting a wellness program that explicitly addresses those feelings.
Give your employees the tools to improve mental and emotional wellbeing, stress, and fatigue, based on their individual needs. For some people, a fitness regimen can really help them. For others, access to flexible work arrangements or time away is the best way to feel supported.
Reach out to one of our wellbeing specialists today to learn how you can tailor your wellness program to improve your employee experience!
- Future Forum Pulse: Executives feel the strain of leading in the ‘new normal’. (October 2022.) Future Forum. Retrieved March 8, 2023 from https://futureforum.com/research/pulse-report-fall-2022-executives-feel-strain-leading-in-new-normal/
- Workplace Burnout Survey. Deloitte. Retrieved March 8, 2023 from https://www2.deloitte.com/us/en/pages/about-deloitte/articles/burnout-survey.html
- Mayo Clinic Staff. Job burnout: How to spot it and take action. Mayo Clinic. Retrieved March 8, 2023 from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/burnout/art-20046642
- Burn-out an "occupational phenomenon": International Classification of Diseases. (May 28, 2019.) World Health Organization. Retrieved March 8, 2023 from https://www.who.int/news/item/28-05-2019-burn-out-an-occupational-phenomenon-international-classification-of-diseases
- Brassey, Jacqueline, Coe, Erica, Dewhurst, Martin, Enomoto, Kana, Jeffery, Barbara, Giarola, Renata, and Herbig, Brad. (May 27, 2022.) Addressing employee burnout: Are you solving the right problem? McKinsey. Retrieved March 8, 2023 from https://www.mckinsey.com/mhi/our-insights/addressing-employee-burnout-are-you-solving-the-right-problem
- How to Prevent Employee Burnout. Gallup. Retrieved March 8, 2023 from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/313160/preventing-and-dealing-with-employee-burnout.aspx
- What Is Burnout? (February 1, 2022.) Cleveland Clinic. Retrieved March 8, 2023 from https://health.clevelandclinic.org/signs-of-burnout/
- How to Prevent Employee Burnout at Your Organization. (December 1, 2022.) Spring Health. Retrieved March 10, 2023 from https://springhealth.com/blog/employee-burnout-management-prevention/
- Kerrissey MJ, Hayirli TC, Bhanja A, Stark N, Hardy J, Peabody CR. How psychological safety and feeling heard relate to burnout and adaptation amid uncertainty. Health Care Manage Rev. 2022 Oct-Dec 01;47(4):308-316. doi: 10.1097/HMR.0000000000000338. Epub 2022 Feb 17. PMID: 35135989; PMCID: PMC9422764. Retrieved March 10, 2023 from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35135989/
- Moody, Kathryn. (February 1, 2022.) 3 ways to keep L&D relevant as burnout reaches new levels. HR Dive. Retrieved March 10, 2023 from https://www.hrdive.com/news/3-ways-to-keep-ld-relevant-as-burnout-reaches-new-levels/618110/
The Gympass Editorial Team empowers HR leaders to support worker wellbeing. Our original research, trend analyses, and helpful how-tos provide the tools they need to improve workforce wellness in today's fast-shifting professional landscape.