Employee burnout is one of those phrases that gets thrown around fairly carelessly. From employees who may just be having a bad week, to employers who don’t believe it’s ‘a thing’ to actual sufferers of chronic burnout and work-related stress, it’s something we hear about, often without stopping to think too deeply about the condition behind the words.
To be clear, it has been proven that employee burnout is a real thing. And of course, it can have a devastating effect on the health and wellbeing of the sufferer - but, from a business perspective, it can also cost your company dearly.
Think: lost productivity, negativity in the workplace, and poor employee retention.
Employees with job burnout aren’t able to perform to the best of their abilities. They have a negative knock-on effect on their colleagues and morale. And they’re also more likely to look for a new job.
Indeed, research by Gallup uncovered some pretty shocking statistics in the US:
- 76% of employees experience job burnout at least sometimes.
- Employees who frequently experience burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day.
- 28% of employees say they are burned out ‘very often’ or ‘always’ at work.
- Employees who frequently experience burnout are 23% more likely to visit the hospital.
So what can you do to combat employee burnout in your place of work? Let’s take a look.
How to spot (and support) employees with burnout
These are some of the signs that burnout is occurring in an employee. We’ll go through each in more detail below.
- They’re suffering from a lack of focus
- They appear to be exhausted
- They’ve become disengaged
- They are irritable
- Their productivity has decreased
They’re suffering from a lack of focus
If an employee is seemingly unable to focus, they may be experiencing burnout. For example, they’ve been given instructions but haven’t executed the task properly. They appear to be unable to concentrate on a conversation or their mind is clearly wandering during a meeting.
They appear to be exhausted
Signs of exhaustion are a pretty clear indication of job burnout. We’re not talking about an employee who shows up with bags under their eyes due to a ‘sociable’ weekend, but someone who is constantly tired. As HR it will be useful to track their absenteeism - if there’s a pattern of time off and an employee is constantly shattered, it’s pointing to burnout.
They've become disengaged
Burnout and disengagement can sometimes be confused. They’re not the same thing, but they are intertwined. Disengagement is described by the World Health Organization as “Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job.” Signs an employee is feeling this way are a lack of attention and interest, and low energy.
They are irritable
If a previously pleasant and unruffled employee has suddenly become snappy, grumpy and /or easily offended, chances are they’re burnt out. And not only is this damaging relationships within the workplace and having an effect on morale, if the employee is customer facing, you could be in even bigger trouble.
Their productivity has decreased
A nosedive in productivity could be a clear warning sign that you have an employee burnout situation on your hands. Burnt out employees don’t accomplish as much, they become inefficient, and their productivity reduces. The knock on effect of this is that they feel unable to cope and begin to feel personally and professionally inadequate.
Bear in mind that many of these signs of job burnout are related to one another: an exhausted employee is going to be a less productive and more irritable employee. An employee who can’t concentrate is going to be an inefficient and ineffective employee.
How to support employees with burnout (and how to avoid it in the first place!)
Obviously, in an ideal world your organisation wouldn’t be the type of environment that causes burnout. But as that 75% figure tells us, there are not many employees who enjoy a completely burnout-free working experience.
Chances are you may well have a disengaged and exhausted employee on your hands. So what can you do to support them?
- Trust and empower your employees
- Recognize your employees
- Listen to your employees
- Take employee health and wellbeing seriously
These are all things you can do, both to support an employee who is going through a period of burnout, and to implement to lower the chances of burnout-blight in your business. We’ll take a closer look:
Trust and empower your employees
Getting your people involved in team or departmental decision making is a way of empowering them by giving them a sense of control. It says you trust them to make the right choices and you value their opinions. This can translate into employees feeling that they can approach their manager freely with any problems they might be experiencing, helping to address issues of burnout directly.
Recognize your employees
We’ve talked before about the importance of employee recognition. Not only does it help boost your employee retention rates, but it also creates a far more positive company culture. It’s also an effective tool in the fight against employee burnout. That’s because when someone is struggling to cope or feeling inadequate, they generally want someone to notice and offer reassurance. Recognition plays a big part in helping this, whether it’s a pat on the back from a colleague or a shout out for a job well done by the manager in a team meeting, or even a thank you gift card to the local coffee shop, actions like this go a long way to helping someone feel appreciated and seen.
Listen to your employees
Be willing to listen to your people and let them know your door is always open, whether you’re Human Resources or a manager. Employees who feel like they can talk to their superior are less likely to become overwhelmed and experience burnout. You can proactively listen too by encouraging feedback through company questionnaires, stay interviews and surveys, or even anonymous suggestion boxes. Just make sure that feedback and concerns are acted upon otherwise your employees will just see this as an empty, and ultimately pointless, exercise.
Take employee health and wellbeing seriously
We know there is a lot of chatter about health and wellbeing in the workplace, but if you want your people to be happy and engaged - and efficient and productive - you need to make sure they’re being looked after while they’re at work. Yes, healthy snack time and the implementation of walking meetings are great, but proper access to mental health care, subsidised gym memberships, and company yoga or meditation classes onsite will go much further in improving wellbeing.
Spotting and supporting burnout in remote employees
It goes without saying that not seeing your people in person can make identifying burnout that much harder. You will need to actively, and consistently, measure the level of engagement of your remote workers.
This goes back to asking for feedback through surveys and making sure that remote employees aren’t ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Check in with them. Hold regular one-on-one and team meetings. Encourage them to talk to their colleagues, whether those people are also remote or office based.
And keep an eye on their productivity too. If people aren’t online when they should be, aren’t turning in the results or quality or quantity of work as they used to, they’re clearly disengaged - and they could be burnt out.
Either way, you will need to address the issue.
Employee burnout: conclusion
Employee burnout is real and it needs to be addressed. And for anyone suffering from job burnout, they may very well need your help and some human empathy to overcome it and get back to being the happy, productive, engaged and efficient employee they once were.
And that’s great for them - and also good news for your organisation's productivity, morale and, even profits.