Employee burnout can negatively impact your company. People seldom admit to being burned out in our society, so it's essential to recognize the signs that somebody is burned out and get them the help they need. Employers need to understand the causes and impact of burnout to build preventative measures into their company culture.
Despite hearing about it often, it's a topic that's still highly misunderstood. Here, we've compiled a resource to explain what burnout is, what causes it, and the steps management can take to reduce it.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is perpetual exhaustion caused by being or feeling constantly overwhelmed. Burnout is not a mental illness, although it can lead to one (or aggravate an existing condition) if not resolved. However, burnout is a mental health issue, and you must treat it as such.
Burnout generally happens when people work too hard and expect too much of themselves in terms of time, productivity, or perfection. It can also be triggered by feeling inadequate or unappreciated or not being in the proper role. Employers who make unreasonable demands can easily trigger burnout, causing decreased productivity, quality, and morale, as well as increased turnover.
Things unrelated to work also impact an employee's risk of burnout. In 2019, 42% of workers felt burned out. A few months into COVID-19 and that number had soared to 72%. While the pre-pandemic rates were already terrible, soaring burnout is a significant contributor to the "Great Resignation," that increased number of people leaving their jobs. Burnout can also be triggered by, for example, relationship problems or having to be a caregiver.
How Can You Spot Employee Burnout?
Again, most people aren't willing to admit to burnout at work, or they may not realize how burned out they are. Managers, supervisors, and HR must keep their eyes open for signs of burnout and take steps to engage their employees. It's crucial to address it before the employee quits or takes extended leave. Burnout manifests in multiple ways, depending on the employee's personality. However, the following are typical "symptoms" of burnout:
Perpetually Being Tired or Exhausted
Some people are always tired until they get their coffee. A symptom of burnout, though, is being constantly tired. Burned-out employees may appear listless, complain about being tired, or even fall asleep at their desks. They might also show the classic signs of sleep deprivation while insisting they had enough sleep. Lack of motivation is another sign that somebody may be experiencing fatigue. Fatigue can also impair judgment.
Making Recurrent or New Mistakes
A burned-out employee may constantly make the same mistakes over and over. Or they may start making mistakes they haven't before. One clear sign that something is wrong is when an employee appears to lose the ability to perform tasks that they have been doing routinely and correctly for a long time.
Frequently Being Sick
Burned-out employees may call in sick more often for a couple of reasons. First, they could be calling in sick when they want to take a mental health day. Second, stress and burnout affect the immune system, making employees more vulnerable to minor illnesses. A growing increase in absenteeism over time is another clear sign that something is wrong.
Irritability, Frustration, or Cynicism
Your usually very friendly receptionist is snapping at you? It might be burnout. Burned-out employees are more likely to express irritation or frustration at coworkers, customers, or themselves. Or they might express more cynical viewpoints and negative opinions about themselves or job prospects. These symptoms link to fatigue, but they are also a clear sign that somebody is feeling trapped in their job.
Mental Illnesses Like Depression or Anxiety
Finally, as mentioned, unresolved burnout can lead to actual mental illness, especially in individuals already prone to it. It can also worsen the symptoms of existing disease. If you have an employee experiencing depression or anxiety and are seeking treatment, see if there is anything you can do to improve their work environment and support them.
There are also several subtle signs of burnout. It can manifest simply as decreased motivation or productivity. Burned-out employees may show or express a lack of care for their work. In other cases, an employee might be snacking more (comfort eating) or having more drinks at happy hour than was previously typical.
Burnout can also be somewhat contagious. An irritable employee, making mistakes, or taking time off when needed lowers morale and increases other employees' risk of burnout.
How to Remedy Burnout
Employers need to do what they can to reduce and remedy burnout. Resolving it is the responsibility of HR and management. Burned-out employees will likely leave eventually and potentially take valuable institutional knowledge with them. As burnout can spread, this can result in multiple staff members leaving in a short period, causing significant issues. Burnout also lowers overall productivity by reducing employees' capacity to handle an extensive workload or achieve the same quality.
So, how can you help your employees avoid burnout or recover from it? Here are a few things you can do:
- Provide feedback, especially positive feedback to employees, making them feel valued.
- Hold one-on-one meetings and keep communication channels open. Employees are less likely to burn out if they can talk to management about their concerns or have more insight into the company.
- Set realistic goals. Make sure you aren't overwhelming people and listen if they say they don't know they can do it. Check-in with them and offer support to help them learn.
- Encourage a healthy work-life balance, including discouraging working long hours in non-emergency situations and letting people take mental health days, within reason.
- Model a healthy work-life balance yourself. When top management or HR stay until 8 pm, everyone else thinks they have to too.
- Offer flexible scheduling options. Giving employees more control over their time helps them feel more in control and fit in relaxation time. Implement this by letting people choose their start times, allowing for work-from-home, offering a 4-day workweek, or increased time-off.
Above all, make sure that your employees feel supported and capable in their roles, and consider benefits such as an employee assistance program to help them deal with burnout.
HR plays a fundamental role in preventing and resolving burnout. To help your HR staff do this crucial part of their job better, you should outsource routine administrative feelings such as payroll processing to a PEO. A PEO can handle all your routine, tedious tasks, and free HR personnel from doing the more exciting and vital parts of their job. It also helps prevent burnout amongst HR personnel and managers, letting them perform better and support employees.