Work-related stress can sometimes feel unavoidable. Employees may experience busy days, weeks or seasons that leave them feeling frazzled. Feeling some occasional stress is normal, especially when facing an impending deadline or important project. It becomes an issue, however, when that stress is chronic. A 2021 report from Indeed found that employee burnout is on the rise for employees of all ages. 52% of responders are feeling burned out. Two-thirds (67%) of workers stated they believe that burnout has worsened during the pandemic.
These numbers are hard for employers to ignore. Burnout takes a toll on employee’s mental and physical health which understandably bleeds into their professional lives. According to the American Institute of Stress, job stress costs companies in the U.S. over $300 billion annually. Organizations with burned-out staff experience low productivity, lost working days, lower profits, reduced talent, and high turnover. One of the first steps to managing employee burnout, is being able to identify some of the hallmark signs.
Warning signs of employee burnout
First, it is important to note that burnout does not happen overnight. Stress compounds and leads to burnout over time. Employees may still be engaged at work and exhibiting one or two of the following signs. When the stress becomes unmanageable, more of these signs may become apparent.
- Regularly arriving late
- Reduced goals, and aspirations
- Increased apathy
- Relationship difficulties with coworkers
- Poor treatment of others
- Increased mistakes or accidents
- Difficult and uncooperative behavior
Tips to prevent employee burnout
Set clear, realistic goals
When employees are unclear about expectations at work, they can feel lost and unmotivated. Coupling this with an unsurmountable workload and you have a recipe for burnout. Employers need to ensure that performance goals are communicated clearly to each employee and reassessed occasionally to ensure that they are appropriate. A helpful practice is to meet with employees and ask them to describe what their top priorities are. This is a great way to gauge whether everyone is on the same page, and pivot goals as needed.
Human beings are social creatures who thrive on interaction and connection. Employers have the unique opportunity to foster these connections. Whether it is in the office, or remotely, employers should encourage team members to come together. This can be as simple as adding a weekly team catch-up to the schedule or planning an afterhours get together.
Promote work/life balance
Employees are not machines and cannot be expected to be available constantly. For many people, this has become increasingly difficult as jobs have become more remote. Technology makes it easy to stay connected to work, even after the office closes. Employers should refrain from reaching out to employees outside of work hours barring an emergency. Providing flexible work schedules is a wonderful benefit for employees as well. Allowing flexible hours, or even shorter work weeks, can give employees the opportunity to handle outside responsibilities without having to stress about timing.
Additionally, employers should also model work/life balance to others in their organization. This could be things like shutting down the office early before a holiday to prioritize family time, actively promoting time off and “un-plugging” from work during off-hours. When employees witness buy-in from employers and those in management positions, they can feel more comfortable participating in those activities as well.
Knowing that your daily tasks add something to the bigger picture can be encouraging for many employees. This can help provide an emotional connection to an employee’s work. Employers should be transparent about the organization’s mission and describe how each employee’s position plays a role in those initiatives. This helps employees take ownership, and pride in their job.
One of the silver linings coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, has been the de-stigmatization of mental health. It seems like more and more, people are willing to discuss their needs and seek out support and treatment. Organizations can take an active role in starting these conversations in the workplace and play a part in helping employees address stress and their overall well-being. Burn out is not only a personal issue, but also an organizational one. Employers are responsible for building a successful and healthy foundation for their team.