How Leaders Can Prevent Employee Burnout

In a recent Gallup study of Employee Burnout, they found that 76% of employees experience burnout at work, and 28% say they are burned out “very often” or “always.” The consequences of chronic burnout at work are significant. Employees that frequently experience burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day, and 23% more likely to visit an emergency room. They are also more than twice as likely to be seeking a different job. 

Workplace burnout has long been a concern for both workers and employers. However, as the world shut down to deal with the global pandemic, businesses everywhere faced an unpredicted struggle. Many managers likely prioritized productivity and began working hard to save their bottom lines. While this is understandable, it is also important for leaders to encourage their teams to practice self-care in order to prevent burnout. Workers are facing immense amounts of stress, many working from home while caring for their children or elderly relatives. There may also be added financial anxiety, with unemployment rising and businesses struggling to stay open. Newly-remote workers may feel pressure to be more productive than before out of fear that they will be seen as less valuable while working from home. On-site workers may have increased anxiety about possibly getting sick or dealing with the increased workload if there has been a reduction in the workforce. 

When employees experience continuous high levels of stress that leads to burnout, organizations see increased turnover and decreased productivity. Managers need to be able to recognize signs of exhaustion among their teams and help them manage their stress and workload. 

Common Signs of Employee Burnout

  1. Mental and Physical Exhaustion – Do your employees talk about being tired, unable to sleep, or appear to be dragging themselves to work? 
  2. Manifestation of Physical Symptoms – Exhaustion and stress can show up as physical symptoms like nausea, headaches, rapid weight loss, or weight gain. You might notice dark circles under an employee’s eyes due to lack of sleep, or see they aren’t as put together as usual. 
  3. Disengagement – Are your employees participating in meetings at the same level as before? Are they responsive to emails and phone calls? Or are they disconnecting from the team?
  4. Increased Absences – Are your employees taking more sick days, coming in late more frequently? Stress can cause more frequent illness, or employees could be hopeful that a day off will restore their energy. 
  5. Decreased Productivity – Are your employees having trouble focusing and completing tasks? Do they seem overwhelmed and unable to catch up with their workload? 

The Root Causes of Burnout

The best way to deal with employee burnout is to understand the root cause and ultimately to prevent it. Most people associate burnout with over-work. The likelihood of burnout does increase significantly when employees exceed 50 hours a week and even more at 60 hours a week. However, in Gallup’s study on burnout, they discovered that how people experience their workload is a more significant indicator of burnout than the number of hours worked. 

The top four factors that cause employees to experience burnout are: 

  • Unfair treatment at work – Employees that experience unfair treatment at work in the form of bias, favoritism, or mistreatment by a coworker, are 2.3 times more likely to experience a high level of burnout. 
  • Unmanageable workload and unreasonable time pressureHigh-performing employees can quickly shift from optimistic and productive to hopeless and burned out if they are struggling with an unreasonable deadline or unrealistic to-do list. 
  • Unclear communication from managersWhen managers are unclear about expectations or don’t provide enough information for employees to complete tasks, it can be frustrating and time-consuming.
  • Lack of supportEmployees that feel their manager is negligent, condescending, or unavailable when things go wrong are far more likely to experience burnout. 

How Leaders Can Prevent Burnout

Now more than ever, leaders must make employee well-being their top priority. It is much more effective to prevent burnout than to recover from it. Leaders can take some simple actions to help prevent burnout in their staff. 

  • Provide ongoing training – Make sure both managers and employees have the necessary skills to do their jobs and work effectively together. Training and development programs should include soft skills such as conflict management, team-building, and emotional intelligence to foster a resilient culture with the organization. 
  • Check-In with employees frequently –  Make time to personally check in with employees and find out how they are doing, asking probing questions to get past the obligatory answer that “I’m fine.” Get feedback about workload, deadlines, and any challenges they might be facing. 
  • Model and enforce reasonable working hoursEncourage workers to keep reasonable hours, and model that behavior. Employees will feel pressured to be available when their managers are working. If you send emails on the weekends, even if you don’t expect a response until Monday, employees will feel like they should be logging in on their days off to check emails. If you must compose communications at off times, schedule the emails to be sent during working hours. 
  • Encourage Physical ActivityExercise is one of the best ways to reduce stress. Consider offering an office yoga class, or have walking meetings outside with staff.  Encourage team members to take advantage of any available employee wellness programs offered by the company. For remote workers, you could encourage an online fitness class or participate in group exercise via a Zoom meeting.