As the pandemic lingers, employee burnout is at historic levels. More than 70% of employees reported being burnt out and feeling that their employers aren’t doing enough to address workplace burnout. Workplace burnout is commonly defined as extreme physical and emotional exhaustion that results in a lack of professional efficacy, increased cynicism, lack of engagement and depleted energy.
Employee burnout doesn’t happen overnight. It’s a series of triggers that occur over time causing even the most passionate employee to become disengaged.
Some warning signs that an employee is likely burnt out include:
- Detached from the workplace culture
- Loss of motivation and enthusiasm for their job
- Decreased productivity
- Increased mistakes and poor memory
- Inability to make decisions
- Poor sleep habits
- Irritable and more sensitive to feedback
- Increased negativity and cynical outlook
- Increased absenteeism
Rather than address the root cause of an employee’s burnout, companies believe they can reverse it by giving them more money, a new title or offering more fun perks. While this may be a short term solution, the root cause of the issue hasn’t been addressed and it will inevitably resurface.
Suzie Finch, founder of The Career Improvement Club, explained, “once an employee has lost the motivation, drive and trust of their employer it’s very hard to regain it back.” As such, the employee and company end up parting ways. This is due to the employee growing resentful and leaving on their own accord, the employee becoming vocal about their grievances to the point of termination or the manager writing the employee off until they can push them out.
Here are four ways employers can begin to address employee burnout.
Foster A Mental Health Friendly Culture
Tackling burnout is more than implementing a well-being program. It’s changing workplace habits, identifying root causes and utilizing leadership to set the tone moving forward. Employees look to their managers and leadership to learn the norms and acceptable behaviors of the workplace. Thus, leadership needs to be the champions of mental health and well-being. When employees see their manager work through lunch, not take PTO or work while on vacation, they assume they need to do the same as well. This perpetuates a culture of burnout.
In order to provide mental health support, employers need to seek the feedback of their employees to understand what’s creating the stress. Burnout can result from various factors such as an unmanageable workload, no support, an inflexible schedule, lack of expectations and role clarity, unrealistic deadlines, micromanaging and unfair treatment, to name a few.
Here are some ways employers can start to reverse burnout through mental health
- Create a mental health strategy and actively promote to employees
- Actively work to mitigate an overwhelming workload
- Revisit workplace policies to create more flexibility for employees
- Seek out Employee Assistance Program (EAP) details and share with employees
- Encourage employees to take mental health breaks throughout the day at their own discretion
- Host meditation or yoga sessions for employees to participate in
- Empower employees to take control of their schedule and set boundaries
- Encourage employees to use their vacation days
- Create a safe space for employees to feel comfortable opening up to their manager when they’re struggling with their workload
- Create open and transparent two-way communication
While this isn’t a conclusive list, it’s a start. Each workplace and employee situation is different. Most importantly, managers need to be mindful and observant for when employees are at their emotional edge. The worst thing companies can do is seek feedback and ignore it, make excuses for it or make false promises.
Embrace A Culture Of Emotion
Most companies abandon their own core values to avoid dealing with the emotional aspect of their employees. For example, companies tout putting their people first, yet they try to suppress any emotion that isn’t positive. By doing so, they believe they can create a culture where they can manage how employees feel and express themselves. However, the Harvard Business Review said, “most companies don’t realize how central emotions are to building the right culture. They tend to focus on the cognitive culture: the shared intellectual values, norms, artifacts and assumptions that set the overall tone for how employees think and behave at work.” While that’s incredibly important, emotional culture is just as critical.
Companies who ignore or fail to understand how emotions contribute to the overall well-being of the culture will undoubtedly suffer as a result. Embracing a culture of emotion means creating a safe space where employees feel comfortable expressing their feelings, concerns and share when they’re struggling. Research shows that emotions influence an employee’s creativity, decision making, performance and overall commitment to the company. All of which impact the bottom line.
Ensure Employees Are Taken Care Of
While most burnout is due to experiences in the workplace, external influences are also a contributing factor. External stressors employees commonly face are financial problems, family and relationship issues, pet concerns, addiction, social disadvantages, discrimination, abuse, trauma, bereavement or personal health issues, to name a few.
Ensuring employees are taken care of means having the right programs and resources available to support them. This can be having an EAP, a mental health program such as Fringe, offering telebehavioral health benefits, having a personal coach available and more. Many companies are revising their benefits to now include dog walking, pet sitting and grocery delivery services to alleviate employee stress.
Ditch The Traditional 9-5
Expecting employees to work traditional working hours is quickly becoming an archaic practice. Companies are now shifting to more flexible schedules with established core working hours. Core working hours may be defined differently for each company but ultimately it’s when everyone must be present and available for meetings. Outside of those core working hours, managers have the trust and expectation that employees will complete what’s expected of them when they’re most productive.
Managers are empowering employees more than ever to own their calendar through time-blocking. Rather than time-blocking an entire day or week out, Stacy Cyr, director of marketing at Barton Associates, recommends employees to build in 20% more time for meetings, deadlines and questions. Not only does this reduce stress, but it also gives a buffer for when things pop up throughout the day.
Likewise, no meeting days are becoming increasingly popular. While it may not be possible to block off an entire day, having the ability to have a meeting-free afternoon during the week is crucial for a deep work session without interruptions.