In today's workplace, burnout is reaching epic proportions. According to a recent survey by FlexJobs and Mental Health America (MHA), 75% of workers have experienced burnout.
That's especially the case since the advent of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many employees (37%) say they are working longer hours since the pandemic started, and the increased job stress they are experiencing is causing elevated levels of anxiety, fatigue and anger in the workplace. The result is decreased productivity and greater employee turnover.
If a company wants its workers to thrive in the workplace, one of the primary objectives of its Human Resources (HR) department and management team should be finding ways to minimize the threat of employee burnout.
Burnout is a state of physical, mental and emotional exhaustion caused by workers experiencing high levels of on-the-job stress over a prolonged period of time. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), burnout results from "chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed."
WHO notes that burnout is not classified as a medical condition. It is, rather, a phenomenon that occurs specifically in an occupational context. For that reason, the term burnout "should not be applied to describe experiences in other areas of life."
According to the WHO, burnout is characterized by three major signs:
A company's management and HR teams have a crucial role to play in helping employees maintain their mental health on the job. Here are some steps you can take to help workers avoid or overcome workplace burnout.
According to the FlexJobs/MHA survey, flexibility in working conditions is the number one way workers feel their employers can support them. For example, allowing employees to work from home and arrange their own schedules as much as possible, especially during the pandemic, can be a major factor in reducing stress.
Employee schedules and workloads should be carefully monitored to ensure they remain at a reasonable level as conditions change. While spikes in work requirements are to be expected from time to time, remember that by its very definition burnout involves high levels of job stress for prolonged periods of time.
One unanticipated consequence of more employees working from home during the pandemic has been a detrimental blurring of the distinction between job time and personal time. Managers should strongly encourage workers to maintain a distinct separation between the two, and to take the time away from work that's necessary for adequate self care. For example, make sure employees take the time off that's due them (52% of workers fail to use all their vacation time).
According to the WHO, one of the main contributors to job stress is workers feeling that they lack the knowledge, skills, resources, or managerial support they need to reach the goals they are expected to achieve. (By the way, another major stressor is a lack of clarity concerning those goals). Be sure your employees understand exactly what is expected of them, and that they have access to the human, technical and material resources they need to meet those requirements.
It is critically important that employees feel free to honestly discuss their concerns both with fellow workers and with management or HR. When workers feel that important information is being withheld from them, or that their voices are not being heard, both stress and cynicism about the job can increase drastically.
According to research conducted by Dr. Norbert Semmer of the University of Bern, increased job satisfaction and decreased stress are directly correlated with the amount of recognition and appreciation workers receive. In a presentation delivered to the WHO he declares, "Appreciating people pays off for the employee and for the organization… Training managers and leaders to communicate it is an important aspect of preventing stress and burnout."
A major service your HR team should provide is to save your company money by, among other things, increasing employee engagement and lowering turnover. But many HR departments are hindered in achieving those goals because they are bogged down with non-revenue-producing tasks such as payroll, benefits administration, and ensuring regulatory compliance.
HR can have a much more positive impact when it can maintain a sharp focus on monitoring your company's work environment for signs of employee burnout, and on finding ways to improve the company's culture to minimize unnecessary stress on workers.
That's why HR outsourcing is growing in popularity. When a company partners with a top-notch Professional Employment Organization (PEO), such as OneSource, its internal HR department is freed up to prioritize those employee issues, most especially including burnout, that directly affect your bottom line.
HR outsourcing allows you to focus on your core business while your PEO handles day-to-day personnel and employment administration tasks.
As a manager, you have the power to help minimize employee burnout. Gallup states the case succinctly: "Managers are largely responsible for the conditions most likely to cause or prevent burnout."
By following the steps outlined here, you can help your company maintain a work environment in which employees can thrive while maximizing productivity.