Burnout is an issue for entrepreneurs working around the clock and doctors trudging through long, demanding shifts, but you may not consider the serious effects it can have on your own staff. With a workday that doesn’t end and an always-reachable mentality, job burnout is pervasive in many occupations. According to a recent study of 7,500 full-time employees, burnout affected 23% of workers on the job ranging from “very often or always.”1
It’s such an epidemic that occupational burnout is an officially recognized medical diagnosis by the World Health Organization. Burnout has many causes, including balancing personal responsibilities with too many or unmanageable job duties, a lack of control and boredom. While you certainly can’t control your employees’ lives, you can do your part to mitigate or avoid work-related issues related to burnout. Although stress manifests in various ways for different people, the World Health Organization identified three general signs of occupational burnout you can look for at the workplace.
1. Exhaustion and Energy Depletion
Everyone has a rough night of sleep from time to time, but pervasive exhaustion/low energy and lack of enthusiasm in combination with other factors may be an indication that an employee is over-stressed or nearing burnout.
Repeated Late Days
- Consistently showing up late for work can also be a sign of exhaustion, especially if the employee doesn’t have a history of tardiness. Job burnout can affect sleep, which can also negatively impact one’s health.
2. Negative or Cynical Feelings About One’s Job and/or Increased Mental Distance From the Position
Feelings of hopelessness and apathy relating to one’s work are common among people with occupational burnout.
Irritability and Low Morale
- An employee experiencing burnout may have increased interpersonal issues, or they may outwardly express dissatisfaction with their current position. Low office morale can quickly affect others. Though you may not hear about every interaction between colleagues, you can look for warning signs if an employee’s attitude or morale has taken a turn for the worse.
High Turnover Rate
- Although it may be too late to appease symptoms of burnout for employees who are ready to move on, a high employee turnover rate is an extremely expensive problem to have. Make sure to provide exit interviews for employees leaving the company, and respond to feedback if they resign due to stress, too many responsibilities or other causes of burnout.
3. Lower Efficacy
Reduced output can have many causes, but if a once-reliable and proven worker shows a pattern of lower-quality work, you may want to examine causes and find ways to improve the situation.
Increased Sick Days
- You’ll likely not know exactly why an employee has taken more sick days than usual, but burned out workers are 63% more likely to take a sick day than their peers.1 Repeated, unplanned days off can be a sign of burnout when other factors are present. Whether your employees feel more apathetic about their work, are looking for other jobs or are experiencing an illness due to stress, overall productivity can take a hit as an employee’s absence can have a ripple effect on other teams, projects and/or clients.
Lack of Attention to Detail
- If an employee starts making increased or uncharacteristic mistakes, submitting incomplete work or is otherwise missing important details, it may be a sign of job-related stress or burnout. Although everyone has bad days and a mistake isn’t necessarily a telltale sign, a pattern of repeated errors can indicate that something isn’t right.
How to Prevent Workplace Burnout
- Even though your employees may log long hours at work, it doesn’t mean the extra time on the clock is actually productive. Studies suggest that working overtime can lead to diminishing returns in productivity and substantially contribute to work burnout. While the standard 40-hour workweek was accepted by generations before the widespread use of the internet, it may be time to adopt a more flexible work schedule. If your employees have finished their work, and you’re satisfied with the quality, consider letting them leave for the day. Remote-flexible schedules can also positively impact employees experiencing burnout. A New Zealand study found that reducing the work week from five days to four actually improved creativity and attendance without affecting job performance.
Get Honest Opinions
- Since your staff may not feel comfortable talking directly to you about personal or stress-related issues, ensure they have an unbiased professional with whom to discuss concerns, such as a human resources representative. If your staff are comfortable speaking with you, it’s essential not to judge their situation or feelings. You can also suggest they speak with an outside professional for help with stress management and coping mechanisms.
Provide Ample Resources and Training
- As an employer, you can make a big impact with the resources you provide at the workplace and beyond. Look for specialized training and educational programs related to your organization, job-related skills courses and other areas in which your staff needs help. You can also provide stress management courses, additional help on a particular assignment, more time to complete projects or even an employer-sponsored yoga or workout class.
Foster a Sense of Belonging
- Feelings of isolation and loneliness, especially at a place where people spend so much time, can negatively affect anyone. Even though you may spend a great deal of time and many resources on hiring and building a team, your employees still may not feel included or that they’re contributing to the organization’s larger goals. You can combat this by organizing team building outings and happy hours. Though a strong workplace culture takes effort and time, recurring after-hours work gatherings can easily help your team come together and get to know each other better.
Reward Good Work
- Make sure you’re vocal about employee recognition, and do it often. You don’t always need to provide a monetary reward or raise; even a shout-out during a meeting or in an email can go a long way to show your appreciation for a job well done.
No matter what steps you take to prevent work burnout for your staff, make sure you offer the same opportunities to everyone. Offering special privileges or benefits to some employees may exacerbate burnout and its negative effects.
1Wigert, B., & Agrawal, S. (August 21, 2019). Employee burnout, part 1: The 5 main causes. Retrieved October 9, 2019, from https://www.gallup.com/workplace/237059/employee-burnout-part-main-causes.aspx