Mitigating Employee Burn-out

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Employee burnout is becoming an increasing issue for employers because it can cost companies substantial amounts of money in PTO, health claims, and productivity. Burn out is when an employee is physically, mentally, and emotionally drained within the work place. Being able to understand what burnout is, the signs, its causes, and how to prevent or mitigate the effects of burnout is important for employers in order to maintain a positive work culture.

A recent Gallup study of almost 7,500 full-time employees found that about two thirds of workers experienced burnout syndrome in some capacity. Employees who are burned out are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 23% more likely to visit the emergency room. They are also 2.6 times more likely to be seeking new jobs and more likely to express frustration that managing life outside of work, ie. family responsibilities, is challenging.

Exhaustion, cynicism and inefficacy are three signs of burnout. When these three things occur together in one individual, severe burnout occurs.

There are several factors that can contribute to employee burnout including work-related factors, personal-life factors and personality factors but for the purpose of this article, we’ll focus only on a few major work-related factors.

Work Overload. Too much work for one person and not enough time in the work day or work week to complete it. This can cause “mental quicksand” which is when poor performance causes individuals to feel overwhelmed leading to further poor performance and maybe even damage to confidence. High-performing employees can quickly shift from positive, half-glass-full employees to hopeless as they become bogged down by an unmanageable workload.
Role Ambiguity. A vague job description and lack of clarity on what is actually expected on a day-to-day basis can cause burn out. According to Gallups’ recent State of the American Workplace report, only 60% of workers strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work. When expectations are a constantly moving target, employees can become exhausted and frustrated trying to figure out what leadership wants from them.
Lack of Resources. No training or lack of role-specific training and/or inadequate resources to perform a job correctly can cause confusion, exhaustion and burnout
Lack of Social Support. Ignoring employees, not saying hello or asking them how they are can make employees feel isolated or ostracized.
Lack of Feedback. If you’re not giving feedback to employees, both positive and constructive, they will never know if they are doing their job well or where they can improve. A negligent manager leaves employees feeling uninformed and confused.
Lack of work-life balance. Employees being so overworked that they are taking work home and answering emails or calls when they are technically off the clock can cause burnout. Too large of a workload or managerial expectations that employees be accessible 24/7 can take time away from family commitments, making employees feel like they never get a break.
Little Participation in Decision Making. Not including employees in any level of decision making, even as small as to where the morning meetings bagels and coffee will be from can make employees feel like they don’t have control over anything. It can leave them feeling helpless and micromanaged.

What You Can Do to Mitigate Burn-out:

  1. Ensure employees have reasonable workloads and realistic deadlines. When a workload is out of control, employees look to their managers to be their advocates for what they can and can’t accomplish.
  2. Provide appropriate resources. This includes making sure employees have access to the tools, resources, and technologies needed to do their jobs well.
  3. Draw boundaries and lead by example. As a manager, director or leader, employees are often following suit when it comes to responding to calls or emails outside of the traditional work hours. Employees, especially new, motivated employees looking to make a good impression and prove their competency may tend to do this. Make it known to employees that responding to emails after work hours, unless in emergency situations, is not expected even if you do it.
  4. Provide Feedback. Let employees know how they are doing on a regular basis. Acknowledge them when you are present in the office and support them when they come to you with questions or concerns.
  5. Discuss responsibilities and performance goals. Connect with employees to clearly outline job expectations and goals. Allow room for autonomy and trust employees to work on tasks for as often as they’d like and as long as they’d like, with opportunities to work on passion projects on the side of main duties.

Employee burnout is detectable, repairable and can be avoided or mitigated by appropriate leadership actions. Burnout is influenced by social, organizational and individual personality factors and the relationship of the individual with their work can be disrupted by any one, or a combination of such factors.

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