Addressing Employee Burnout in the New Year

Burnout is defined as physical or mental collapse caused by overwork or stress. Burnout not only has negative effects on employees, but also affects an organization’s turnover, productivity, retention, and engagement.

As Americans, we spend a third of our lifetimes working! According to Gallup and the American Psychological Association, the majority of employees are stressed. Half of them say their stress is “high” or “overwhelming” and 83 percent of employees report work as their primary source of stress. Stress and burnout cost American companies an estimated $300 billion each year. The Employee Engagement Series conducted by Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace found that the top three contributors to burnout are unfair compensation (41 percent), unreasonable workload (32 percent), and too much overtime/after-hours work (32 percent).

Digging deeper into the data, the study shows there are key factors driving burnout that are within organizational control. HR leaders said poor management (30 percent), employees seeing no clear connection between their role and corporate strategy (29 percent), and a negative workplace culture (26 percent) fuel the problem.

If you think your organization’s culture is leading to burnout, below are a few things you can do to help:

Fit employees’ jobs into the bigger picture: Helping employees create a sense of purpose in their jobs gives them a reason to stay motivated, especially when work gets stressful. How does an individual job affect the organization? Employees want to know that their work has meaning. For example, Southwest Airlines’ purpose is to “connect people to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, and low-cost air travel.” Southwest’s purpose is a thoughtful message which translates to all positions throughout the company. A baggage handler is not just loading bags onto the plane, they are helping someone travel home to attend their mother’s funeral or their best friend’s wedding. Zappos, a well-known shoe company, isn’t just delivering shoes to your doorstep, they are “Delivering Happiness.” Does your organization have a defined purpose? Whether it does or doesn’t, take some time to identify important moments or stories that transpired at your organization and celebrate them! Leverage the meaningful work and culture that already exists at your organization. Doing this helps connect people with their purpose and how they can individually make an impact.

Set challenging yet reasonable goals: Aside from making sure employees have a sense of purpose, they also need to feel like their workload is reasonable. HR (and managers) need to ensure that performance goals are communicated clearly and reworked at appropriate times to meet organizational goals. It is also important that HR and managers encourage employees to reach out when they feel overwhelmed or they find they are working a lot of overtime. The workload may need to be adjusted or staff may need to be added. Fair dissemination of job responsibilities will help prevent employee burnout.

Relieve stress: There are many ways to help employees relieve stress. Encourage employees to use their allotted vacation time (completely unplugged), offer mental health days, or have social activities during the week that require employees to leave their desks. Training employees about mindfulness can be effective too; breathing techniques, yoga, meditation, etc.

Please note, in order to have success with any of the suggestions above, you must have upper-level management support. As always, Employers Council is happy to help your organization reduce burnout in the New Year. If you would like further guidance, please don’t hesitate to reach out to us.