Worried about workplace burnout? You should be, especially since the most recent data shows a significant percentage of the workforce is suffering from it.
The term has taken on new dimensions over the past eighteen months, adding “pandemic fatigue” and hitting the “pandemic wall” to the conversation.
This means that some of the short-term, half-hearted measures companies have traditionally taken to improve employee engagement and reduce workout burnout fall flat in the new landscape.
If you haven’t been taking proactive steps to prevent workplace burnout or help those experiencing it, now is the time for a fresh start.
Discover the symptoms of workplace burnout, what causes it, and what you can do about it.
The term has been in our lexicon for several decades, thanks to psychologist Herbert Freudenberger, who coined it while trying to understand his own frazzled, psychological state.
After working 12-hour shifts at his regular job, he worked part-time in the evenings helping people suffering from drug addiction.
This ambitious man hit a wall. He couldn’t find enjoyment in life anymore and his family found him difficult to live with.
He wasn’t just exhausted or depressed.
“His mind went to the drug addicts down on the Bowery with their blank looks and their cigarettes burning out,” explained Noel King during an NPR podcast. Hence the birth of the term “burnout.”
Today, there isn’t consensus on its exact meaning. Considered a work-related condition with symptoms ranging from apathy, poor focus, and decreased performance, burnout is at an all-time high.
But it isn’t just about being stressed at work.
Work stress can be a good thing. Being stressed because you’ve been selected to give a presentation at a conference is an honor. It’s also short-term.
Contrast that with workplace stress resulting from doing meaningless work, working in a toxic environment, or being constantly frustrated due to not having the tools needed for the job, especially when there’s no end in sight.
Workplace burnout doesn’t look the same for everyone, as burnout management coach Emily Ballesteros pointed out in a recent CNBC article.
There’s burnout by volume, which occurs when employees constantly feel overloaded with work and don’t feel they can take time away for themselves. There’s burnout related to boredom, when people simply feel dissatisfied by the type of work they’re doing for an extended period of time. And there’s burnout by socialization, which is common among people who feel obligated to fulfill every request and don’t know how to set appropriate boundaries.
Workplace burnout can reveal itself in a combination of physical and emotional symptoms, including:
While these symptoms may be common, employees often cope with burnout differently, Ballesteros said. Some people procrastinate. Some become more isolated, while others turn to distractions or look for ways to escape.
The pandemic has contributed to an increase in workplace burnout as employees routinely work longer hours and the lines between home and the office have blurred.
A study of about 20,000 employees from January 2020 through March 2021 revealed that 85% have experienced burnout.
That statistic alone should have you racing to find a solution. Here are a few more workplace burnout statistics that illustrate just how prevalent the problem is and how it’s impacting companies.
According to an Indeed survey, workplace burnout is up 43% from the same survey prior to COVID-19.
Burnout is highest among Millenials and Gen Zers, as well as remote workers.
There are many definitions of workplace burnout. Some experts think of it as “job-related depression.”
It’s not a lack of motivation, but a debilitating condition that makes productivity nearly impossible, even in people who are normally high-achieving.
In its International Classification of Diseases, the World Health Organization has officially added burnout, describing it as a “workplace phenomenon.”
Here’s the good news: As a leader, you have the power to help prevent workplace burnout.
According to Gallup, employees who experience high levels of burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day. They’re also 13% less confident in their performance and 23% more likely to visit the emergency room.
When it comes to work performance, sometimes doing less enables employees to do more.
When employees say they often or always have enough time to do all of their work, they are 70% less likely to experience high burnout.
It’s not how many hours employees work, but also the pace at which they are expected to work.
The attitude that work wouldn’t be called work if it were fun is outdated.
“Workers who are truly engaged spend about four times as many hours doing what they do best every day, in comparison to doing what they don’t do well,” said Jim Harter, Ph.D., a chief scientist for Gallup.
Forcing everyone to work according to an unnecessarily rigid schedule is also outdated.
In a FlexJobs survey, 56% of the respondents listed having flexibility in their workday as the best way their company could support them. Tied for second and third place were encouraging employees to take time off and offering mental health days.
There are many paths to a happy workplace and no one solution is right for every company. It’s often a multi-pronged, individualized approach that brings about lasting corporate change. Here are a few strategies you can implement now.
Although burnout may look like apathy or disengagement, it’s often the result of a highly ambitious person who took on too much, either by choice or by force.
Think back to the case of Herbert Freudenberger. He worked 12-hour days followed by evening shifts that lasted until 2 a.m. The result? He couldn’t enjoy life or even get out of bed.
Take an honest inventory of your work style, lifestyle, and leadership style. If you don’t have a healthy work-life balance, chances are your staff will feel compelled to follow suit. Do you ever:
Even if you openly support a work-life balance and mental health efforts at your company, it’s mere lip service if you don’t walk your talk.
When it comes down to it, you are the main solution to workplace burnout. The culture and vibe of a workplace comes from the top.
Do your own research. Send out an anonymous employee survey to get a baseline for how burnout has impacted your workforce. From there, you can start focus groups led by employees and begin to identify the biggest sources of stress in your workplace.
For instance, you may not realize that requiring all employees to return to the office four days a week only added to the exhaustion for those who commute long distances.
Consider what aspects of your operations are essential for employees to do in person and which functions they could do remotely. This may depend on employees’ roles, responsibilities, and experience. Your most senior employees will likely be more productive working from home than employees who have been at the company less than a year, but new employees won’t learn as much from being in the office unless they can work alongside more experienced ones.
To the extent that it’s possible, give employees the option to work remotely at least a few days a week, and allow them to reserve rooms or desks where they will be most productive.
Employees can easily feel overwhelmed if they spend their days logging in and out of different software systems and applications. Before you introduce a new solution, consider whether it actually solves a problem and fits into employees’ existing workflow.
Solutions that support single sign-on and integrate with the apps your workplace already uses will help employees be more productive and less stressed.
For more ideas on how to fight workplace burnout, check out our latest resource, From Burnout to Bliss: New Rules for Creating Workplace Happiness.