Many leaders are dealing with employees who are experiencing burnout. With the rise in virtual work, the lines between work-life balance are blurred. In order to have a healthy workplace and engaged teams, employers need to be more mindful of ways to mitigate employee burnout.
People begin to feel overwhelmed. People feel that they just can’t produce as much. So when you’re dealing with a team member who is experiencing burnout, they are typically slower to respond or produce. While in a burnout state, every step seems like climbing a mountain. There’s only so much that they feel they can do.
Therefore, you get progressively slower and achieve less efficient results. There are specific things that leaders can do in order to help team members who are experiencing burnout. So, if you’re dealing with an employee who seems to be experiencing burnout, here are five tips to help handle the situation.
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What Is Burnout?
Burnout can be defined as a chronic condition due to prolonged exposure to stress with the absence of effective coping mechanisms. Burnout consists of various symptoms among which are energy loss or exhausted feelings, negative thoughts or reluctance in relation to your work, or decreased productivity.
What is Employee Burnout?
Employee burnout is a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by prolonged or excessive job stress. It is characterized by feelings of detachment, cynicism, and inefficacy. It’s more than just feeling tired or stressed; burnout is a condition where individuals feel overwhelmed, emotionally drained, and unable to meet constant demands. Burnout can have a significant negative impact on an employee’s mental wellness and job satisfaction.
Burnout is often the result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It can be caused by factors such as excessive workload, lack of control over work, insufficient rewards, lack of a supportive community, lack of fairness or equity in the workplace, and mismatched values and skills.
The consequences of burnout can be significant, affecting not only the individual’s health and well-being but also the organization’s productivity and morale. It’s important for both employees and employers to recognize the signs of burnout and take proactive steps to address it, such as promoting work-life balance, providing support and resources, and fostering a positive work environment.
Moreover, the World Health Organization (WHO) recognized burnout as an occupational phenomenon in its 11th edition of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11), released in May 2019. The ICD-11 defines burnout as a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
What Causes Employee Burnout?
The causes of employee burnout are complex and can be attributed to a combination of individual, job, and organizational level factors.
On the individual level, certain personality traits can make someone more prone to burnout. For instance, traits like perfectionism, anxiety, and low self-esteem are often linked to a higher susceptibility to burnout. Additionally, the coping mechanisms individuals use can significantly influence their risk of burnout. Those who rely on unhealthy coping strategies, such as substance abuse or avoidance behaviors, are at a greater risk.
Another critical individual factor is work-life balance. People who struggle to maintain a healthy balance between their professional and personal lives are more likely to experience burnout. This imbalance can lead to a constant feeling of being stretched too thin, contributing significantly to the overall stress that culminates in burnout.
Job factors play a significant role in contributing to employee burnout. A primary factor is workload; when employees face an excessive workload, unrealistic deadlines, and constant pressure, they are more prone to burnout. This overwhelming amount of work can lead to a continuous state of stress and fatigue.
Another crucial factor is the lack of control. Employees who feel they have no autonomy or control over their work processes and decisions are more likely to experience burnout. This sense of powerlessness can be highly demotivating and stressful.
Recognition and rewards are also important. When employees feel their efforts go unnoticed or unappreciated, or if they believe they are not adequately rewarded for their work, they are more susceptible to burnout. This lack of acknowledgment can lead to feelings of disillusionment and questioning the value of their work.
Lastly, the quality of relationships at work can significantly impact burnout risk. Negative relationships with colleagues or managers can contribute to a toxic work environment, leading to increased stress and, consequently, burnout. Supportive and positive relationships, on the other hand, can act as a buffer against the stressors leading to burnout.
Organizational factors are significant contributors to employee burnout. A key element is the organizational culture; workplaces that foster a culture of long hours, unrealistic expectations, and poor communication are more prone to having employees experience burnout. This type of environment often creates a continuous cycle of stress and pressure.
Leadership within an organization also plays a crucial role. Poor leadership, characterized by a lack of support, inadequate feedback, and a deficit in transparency, can significantly contribute to burnout among employees. When leaders fail to provide the necessary guidance and recognition, employees may feel undervalued and overburdened.
Furthermore, the way communication is handled within an organization can impact burnout levels. Ineffective communication, marked by a lack of clarity, insufficient information, and a dearth of open dialogue, can exacerbate feelings of frustration and confusion among employees. Clear, consistent, and transparent communication is essential to prevent misunderstandings and ensure that employees feel informed and engaged.
Alarming Employee Burnout Statistics
Companies are more interested than ever in supporting employee mental health needs. This is why many of them have conducted large studies to determine the extent of job burnout.
One recent study was conducted by Microsoft in 2022 on 20,000 of their employees from the US and 10 other countries. According to it, 48% of employees and 53% of managers report that they’re already burned out at work.
Another study conducted by Future Forum in 2022 and 2023 found that 42% of full-time desk-based workers suffer from job-related burnout. For this study, Future Forum interviewed 10,243 people from 6 countries, including the US.
What Are Employee Burnout Signs
Employee burnout signs can be emotional, physical, and mental. Let’s look at each of them so you can learn to recognize burnout symptoms in your employees.
- Feeling overwhelmed, drained, or emotionally numb
- Feeling irritable, impatient, or easily angered
- Feeling detached from work or colleagues
- Having difficulty concentrating or making decisions
- Experiencing frequent mood swings or crying spells
- Feeling tired, having difficulty sleeping, or experiencing physical aches and pains
- Experiencing headaches, stomachaches, or other physical symptoms
- Using more caffeine or alcohol than usual
- Having changes in appetite or weight
- Difficulty concentrating, making decisions, or remembering things
- Feeling helpless, hopeless, or incapable of doing a good job
- Having trouble seeing the point of work or feeling like nothing you do matters
- Losing interest in activities you used to enjoy
- Withdrawn from work or social activities
- Taking more sick days or coming to work late or leaving early
- Making more mistakes at work
- Having difficulty following instructions or completing tasks
- Engaging in risky or unhealthy behaviors
What is the Impact of Employee Burnout On a Company?
Employee burnout can have a significant negative impact on a workplace, leading to several disadvantages for employers. Here are the main negative effects of workplace burnout:
- Decreased productivity and performance: Burned-out employees are more likely to make mistakes, miss deadlines, and overall perform their jobs less effectively. This can lead to lost productivity, increased costs, and dissatisfaction among customers or clients.
- Increased absenteeism and turnover: Burnout can lead to employees taking more sick days, using more vacation time, and ultimately leaving their jobs. This can disrupt team dynamics, increase training costs, and create a revolving door of employees.
- Reduced employee engagement and morale: Burned-out employees are less likely to be engaged in their work, feel connected to their colleagues, or feel motivated to contribute to the company’s success. This can lead to a decline in morale and a negative impact on the overall work environment.
- Higher healthcare costs: Chronic stress and anxiety, which are common symptoms of burnout, can lead to increased healthcare costs for employers. This includes costs associated with medical care, mental health treatment, and absenteeism related to healthcare needs.
- Legal liability risks: In some cases, employers may be held liable for the health problems of employees who have experienced burnout as a result of workplace conditions. This could include claims for emotional distress, wrongful termination, or discrimination.
How to Deal With Employee Burnout
Dealing with employee burnout requires a comprehensive approach that involves both individual and organizational strategies.
Tip 1: Understand the Team Member’s Workload
Often, leaders are not fully clear on what the workload for each member is. Some team members take on the tasks of other employees. Some assume responsibilities, and the leaders are not 100% clear on the complexity of those tasks.
So, the first thing you should do is get really clear on the workload of every employee. You do that by asking questions. Once you are clear on what the workload is, you can delegate that workload in a way that someone who is experiencing burnout would have a little bit less to do while they recover.
Tip 2: Reassign Part of the Workload for the Overwhelmed Member
If one member of your team is overwhelmed and experiencing burnout, assigning another employee will enable the team to continue to flourish. If there is a certain number of tasks that a member needs to accomplish, you expect them to produce or to submit those. If he or she is unable at any given period, helping them focus on the most important, will allow the other jobs to be passed down to other members.
Helping members make quick, two-second decisions to determine which is most important and which can or should be delegated. This ensures key members are not spending major time on minor things.
Tip 3: Prioritize and Provide Adequate Instructions
The next tip has to do with clarity. Because when you are not clear on what you are asking your people to do, you’re guaranteed to confuse them. When a person is experiencing burnout and feels that it’s hard to produce, it becomes more difficult when they also have to figure out what you mean and what exactly you expect.
The best thing that you can do is to be very clear with your instructions and make sure that your employee fully understands your expectations regarding what you want and when you want it. Clarity with team members reduces stress for the entire team, including the leaders. To be clear, you may want to write down exactly what you expect of your team.
Tip 4: Manage Your Own Stress
The fourth tip is that you need to need to manage your own stress. Sometimes, the leaders also go through burnout. They may be tired, overworked, and overwhelmed. They are stressed. They themselves are dealing with working from home and the stress in their own personal life and work stress. So what you get, is overwhelmed leaders leading overwhelmed team members. That is not a recipe for success.
To care for others, you need to care for yourself. You need to manage your own stress and wellbeing. Once you are calm. Once you took care of yourself, and you’ve prioritized your well-being, then you are in a position to lead others. If you feel that you are so overwhelmed and burned out that you just can’t be in a position to lead and be patient or accepting with someone else today, then do less today. Take care of yourself.
Then do more tomorrow.
Tip 5: Empower and Support Your Team Members
Nothing works better for someone who is overwhelmed or burned out than empowerment. This could be in the form of one kind word, one kind sentence, or something that makes them feel good about themselves.
The best gift that you can provide when someone is overwhelmed, is to mention that you recognize their efforts. It will make all the difference in the world. When you empower someone with recognition, with being thankful for what they do; you give them the power to rebuild their strength to the point that they are once again, who they are and they produce what they’re capable of producing.
10 Ways to Prevent Employee Burnout
Preventing employee burnout is a crucial aspect of maintaining a productive and healthy work environment. Here are some effective strategies to prevent employee burnout:
- Promote work-life balance: Encourage employees to take breaks, utilize vacation time, and pursue personal interests to maintain a healthy balance between work and personal life.
- Foster open communication: Encourage open communication and feedback loops between employees and managers to address concerns promptly and prevent burnout from escalating.
- Cultivate a supportive work environment: Cultivate a supportive work environment that values employee well-being, provides opportunities for recognition and rewards, and fosters a sense of belonging.
- Provide stress management training: Provide training and resources on stress management techniques, time management skills, and conflict resolution strategies to equip employees with tools to manage stress effectively.
- Offer employee assistance programs: Offer access to employee assistance programs, counseling services, and wellness initiatives to provide employees with confidential support and resources for addressing personal or work-related challenges.
- Create a culture of psychological safety: Create a culture of psychological safety where employees feel comfortable expressing concerns, seeking help, and reporting issues without fear of reprisal.
- Empower employees: Empower employees to make decisions about their work, have control over their schedules, and contribute to meaningful projects to foster a sense of ownership and engagement.
- Provide opportunities for professional development: Provide opportunities for professional development, skill enhancement, and career growth to help employees feel valued, engaged, and motivated.
- Regularly assess employee well-being: Regularly assess employee well-being and burnout levels through surveys, focus groups, or individual interviews to identify potential issues early on and implement preventive measures.
- Continuously evaluate prevention strategies: Continuously evaluate the effectiveness of prevention strategies, gather feedback from employees, and make adjustments as needed to ensure the effectiveness of burnout prevention efforts.
What Is the Difference Between Stress and Burnout?
Stress generally is about your psychological or emotional state. It’s when you encounter a lot of tension that come from difficult situations and high-pressure conditions. Job-related stress is a temporary and fleeting experience, whereas burnout is a more chronic condition that results from long-term exposure to heightened levels of tension and stress.
How to Motivate an Overwhelmed Employee?
Motivating an overwhelmed employee requires empathy, understanding, and a supportive approach. The first thing you need to do is figure out if they have too much on their plate and, if so, prioritize tasks for them. Next, you want to teach them how to manage their time better and also how to practice self-care. Other methods of helping them stop feeling overwhelmed include breaking tasks into manageable chunks, taking breaks, practicing mindfulness, delegating certain job responsibilities, and celebrating the small wins.
Ultimately, by understanding the individual limits of your employees and offering sufficient instruction and support, you will go a long way toward ensuring the efficiency and safety of each of your staff members and your company. Truthfully, a business is only as strong as its weakest link. Fortifying that link is more cost-effective than replacing that individual and training a new person.
The duration of burnout varies depending on individual circumstances and responses. It can last from weeks to years, especially if not properly addressed. Recovery requires changes in the work environment, lifestyle, and stress management strategies.
According to data gathered by Zippia, 40% of employees quit because of burnout. Organizations with high-stress environments often see higher turnover rates related to burnout.
Burnout is commonly seen in high-pressure jobs, including healthcare, tech, finance, and education sectors. Individuals in roles with high demands, lack of control, and insufficient support are more susceptible to burnout.
Employee burnout affects organizations through decreased productivity, increased absenteeism, higher turnover, and potential impacts on team morale and company culture. It can also lead to higher healthcare costs and a decrease in overall organizational effectiveness.
Managers can help by promoting a healthy work-life balance, providing support and resources, ensuring fair work distribution, recognizing employee efforts, encouraging open communication, and creating a positive and supportive work environment. Regular check-ins and feedback can also be beneficial.