6 Ways to Stop Employee Burnout

As we start a new year -and a whole new decade as well- it's vital that every business pays close attention to the wellbeing of their employees. 

In 2019, the World Health Organization started including burnout in its International Classification of Diseases as an occupational phenomenonThe WHO defines burnout as follows:

“Burn-out is a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

Burn-out refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life.”

Why does it matter?

Organizations are facing an employee burnout epidemic. A recent Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. That means more than two-thirds of full-time workers experience burnout on the job.

How much does burnout cost your company?

Employees who say they very often or always experience burnout at work are:
  • 63% more likely to take a sick day
  • 23% more likely to visit the emergency room
  • 2.6 times as likely to leave their current employer
  • 13% less confident in their performance

In short, employee burnout can trigger a downward spiral in individual and organizational performance and productivity.

What can you do about it?

1- Set Realistic Workloads

Don’t assume that workloads are acceptable just because employees haven’t openly complained. Sometimes employees are willing to take on extra work for a temporary peak period, or are simply afraid to voice their complaints because of unstable job markets. Don’t fall into the regular mistake of trying to get as much work out of each employee as possible. If it’s obvious that people are working extra hours or spending most of their time on tasks they aren't hired to do, then it’s a lot more productive for the business and the employees if you hire more staff to take on the extra work. Remember that quality beats quantity any day. 
Additionally, try to communicate as early as possible so that employees aren’t burdened with a huge pile of last-minute work - and consequently, stress - every week, which adds up over a longer period of time. They might be able to juggle the work, but the frequent last-minute changes and requests are highly likely to eventually cause burnout.

2- Keep Workplace Culture in Check

Some of the emotional and mental health issues that are involved in employee burnout have a lot to do with a poor workplace culture. A total workplace culture transformation isn’t something you can achieve overnight, but there are quick fixes that you can easily apply. As a start, not every task should be treated as an urgent priority. If you reduce the time pressure and pace (wherever possible), this will reduce stress. 
Also, make sure management is very well equipped in communicating with employees, and provide management and communication training if needed.

3- Offer Reachable Rewards

Some might argue that rewards are a kind of carrot on a stick, something of value that is dangling in front of employees to get them to work harder and do more. But in reality, the way businesses approach employee rewards is the culprit here, not the idea of rewarding itself. 
If you rely on unexciting rewards, it’s only a matter of time until they aren’t a motivator anymore. And if you only tie rewards to more work, you’re essentially pressuring your employees to keep overworking themselves to "deserve" the reward, and this can only lead to employee burnout, which completely defies the purpose of a reward! 

Rewarding employees for working hard sure is important. But some rewards should exist simply because people matter, not just what they can do. And they should definitely be exciting and, well, rewarding.
Whether it’s a gift card, more PTO, or even impromptu free coffee, letting a person know they have value regardless of how much money they made for you goes a very long way.

4- Create Goals

Setting ambitious goals and targets is a great way to motivate employees and accelerate performance. But setting unrealistic or unattainable goals is a sure-fire way to burn them out. 
Also think about employees in dead-end jobs that don’t have any chance for advancement, unless they go work somewhere else. Most of the time that isn’t the business’s fault, because it’s simply not possible for every job to have a chance to be "promoted" in the conventional sense, but it is possible to create goals to fulfill that human need of having a reason for working. Either monetary goals in the form of raises, or education and training goals where you send employees to conferences or provide aid for courses and degrees, or creating horizontal micro-positions that come with both extra responsibilities and benefits. Anything that makes your employees feel they’re going somewhere and advancing themselves as well as their careers is a great way to fight burnout.

5- Engage Employees

It’s easier said than done and it takes a lot of effort to attain. Alas, we’ll always say this: disengaged employees signal a disaster waiting to happen. We’ll be publishing more in-depth articles on employee engagement, but for the time-being, putting a foosball table in the lunch room is not going to suddenly make your employees engaged!

6- Provide Clear Expectations and Career Paths 

Define expectations and roles. You might assume that freeing your workplace from definition and delineation is great, but many employees prefer to have clear guidelines to work in. Guidelines can eliminate the fear and self-doubt that manifest in the "impostor syndrome", which challenges more than 70% of employees at some point in their career. They provide stability and reduce conflict with other employees. Not all people are created the same; you’d probably be surprised with the number of employees suffering from anxiety (72% according to a recent survey!) who physically and mentally need clarity in order to reach peak performance.


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