We hear “burnout” at work so often that we often dismiss it as a buzzword. That’s a big mistake, says the World Health Organization (WHO), which now places burnout on its list of International Classification of Diseases. It’s a very real thing, and it’s something you need to tackle as an employer to boost employee productivity and retention.
We already know that 70% of employees report feeling stressed at work. And, international pollster Gallup says 23% of employees report feeling burnout at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling it sometimes. Pretty grim numbers.
So, what are we even talking about when we say “burnout”? It’s one of those words we all seem to have an emotional response to but rarely define in actual words. The WHO defines burnout as “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:
- feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
- increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
- reduced professional efficacy. Burnout refers specifically to phenomena in the occupational context and should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life."
It’s not a new concept. In fact, it’s a term that was coined way back in 1974. But the fact that’s it’s getting so much recognition now should give you pause an employer.
Not convinced by the WHO’s emphasis on burnout? Consider the following:
- Burnout costs between $125 billion and $190 billion every year in healthcare costs. Researchers estimate that workplace stress accounts for 8% of national spending on healthcare.
- Burnout often leads to disengaged employees, who cost their employers 34% of their annual salary as a result.
- Burnout is responsible for a significant amount of employee turnover, between 20% and 50% or more, depending on the organization.
Burnout is real and costing you money. Period. So, what can you do about it?
There’s no quick fix, obviously, but here’s what I suggest:
- Recognize the signs.
This is actually the easy part. If you notice star employees exhibiting any of the following, you have reason to believe they are burnout (or are on the cusp of it).
Inexplicably absent from work
Tardiness and leaving early
Decline in health
Lack of enthusiasm
If you’ve never assessed your team’s burnout levels before, it’s time for an assessment. A simple survey tool with the right questions will do. Don’t overcomplicate this step. You’re really just looking for a way for your employees to give you feedback without fear of disciplinary action.
Next, stay committed to the process of improving your workplace stress levels by
Holding regular staff and one-on-one meetings to allow for feedback
Emphasizing positives (and downplaying negatives)
Recognizing employee contributions
Clarifying expectations and job requirements
Use the above-mentioned survey to uncover what motivates your employees. Just ask! Does praising them in front of the other staff members improve his or her attitude and productivity? Does pointing out their shortcomings in a one-on-one meeting provide motivation to work harder? Does “Casual Friday” get your crew in a positive mood? Responses will vary based on personality type, so motivate each individual according to their needs, not yours. Encourage stress relief, vacation, and increase compensation for a job well done.
Continue to develop your leadership skills to bring harmony to your group and everyone to work as a team and be more efficient. Read some leadership books, learn about great leaders, and attend a leadership workshop or conference. By doing this, you’ll have more ideas on how to handle burnout situations among your employees. A big part of leadership is encouraging your employees to disconnect after working hours. Say it often, and practice it yourself.
There is no magic formula or tool for fixing employee burnout. There's only hard work and commitment to making things a little bit better, every single day. But employers who do make the effort to eliminate burnout gain a distinct advantage over their competitors. Their employees are healthier and happier, and they produce more, deliver better service to customers and clients, have significantly more loyalty to the organization, reduced absenteeism, and contribute more to the bottom line than their burnt-out colleagues. The time to address burnout is now.