It’s a fact. Your highly-engaged top talent are most at risk from burnout.
A study of more than 1,000 US workers found that many employees who are highly engaged in their work are also exhausted and ready to leave their organisations.
Whereas a lack of engagement is commonly seen as leading to employee turnover, the study found that companies, in fact, risk losing some of their most motivated and hard-working employees due to high stress and burnout – ‘a symptom of the darker side of workplace engagement’.
Every job can be stressful in its own way, but burnout takes that stress to an unhealthy, extreme level.
The Mayo Clinic defines it as a state of physical, emotional or mental exhaustion combined with doubts about your competence and the value of your work.
As workers increasingly become tied by their smartphones to their jobs at all hours of the day, stress resulting in burnout may be particularly bad for younger workers. A study by the American Psychological Association found that millennials and Gen Xers report a higher level of stress than any other generation and appear to have difficulty coping.
Burnout is becoming more widespread, but it’s a mistake for companies to accept it as the norm and not find ways to combat it. It has toxic consequences, like decreased productivity, workforce turnover, and chronic exhaustion that can affect a worker’s mental and physical health.
What’s more, in the recent book Time, talent and energy, researchers found organizations, not employees, were usually to blame when employees were unproductive, with burnout culprits including excessive collaboration, weak time management, and overloading strong performers.
So, how can leadership address burnout in their workforce and help managers identify the signs in their reports – and what role can HR and People teams play?
Unreasonable workloads account for over a third of the root causes of burnout.
In today’s workplace, organizations are developing more agile ways of working, with employees working across different teams and alongside different leaders. Often, managers might not have direct oversight of exactly what their direct reports are working on, or fully understand their overall workload.
So, ensure managers have the tools and approaches to help with this. A modern flexible HR and People system can equip managers to understand the extent of what projects and teams their employees are working on, for example.
However, it’s not always just about the technology. Do managers in your business understand the importance of regular check-ins and their role in supporting their employees to manage their workloads?
Part of this means instilling a culture whereby leaders are empowered to challenge requests for work so that employees can get on with their jobs in hand. After all, no one wants their team to be too busy to get any work done.
A whopping 81% of employees polled in our ‘Why your workforce isn’t working’ survey placed importance and value on flexible working when we asked them what would improve their experiences at work.
Yet there is still a high expectancy in many workplaces that employees must physically be in the office every day. This can place undue stress and anxiety onto employees and create a culture of people working late into the evening just to ‘be seen’ to be working hard.
Thanks to advances in technology, it is now far easier for people to work remotely. So why should parents have to miss the school run just to be seen to be in the office? Why should commuters have to spend three hours travelling to and from work each day, when they could spend that time working from home?
Likewise, if some people are more productive first thing why can’t they start at 7am and finish at 3pm?
Flexible hours and remote working are simple but vital tools in helping your employees to work in a way that suits them.
It goes without saying that one sure fire way to avoid employee burnout is to ensure the health and wellbeing of your people is always front and central to your business culture.
Take a comprehensive look at what you’re offering beyond salary and traditional benefits and talk to your employees about what they’d find most helpful in promoting wellness within the company.
Encourage workers to participate in activities and access information that can help improve health, wellness and productivity. Online health coaches, practical and emotional support, communities and reduced healthcare costs are just some of the ways to help enhance wellness in the workplace.
During a staff meeting, go over the signs of burnout with everyone at the company. Are employees constantly stressed, having a hard time sleeping, or struggling to focus at work? If so, encourage them to take the issue to their manager before it gets to full-fledged burnout.
It’s not always easy for a manager to identify burnout, so it’s important for managers to encourage their direct reports to come forward and let them know when they’re struggling. Together, they can then develop an action plan for getting that person back on track toward a more balanced work life.
After graduate school, I started my career as a quantitative researcher and, when a deadline was looming, I would have to start working 7 days a week for weeks straight. Those projects were instrumental in my career progression, but the potential for burnout was always just around the corner.
As a result, I put in place a disciplined routine and worked hard to stick to it. Not everyone will have built up that knowledge on how to protect yourself from burnout before entering the workforce.
Managers can mentor others in the productivity and time management skills – prioritizing, delegating, and focusing without interruptions or multitasking – that are needed to complete work successfully and quickly in especially busy times.
If someone is currently experiencing burnout, but can’t take vacation, encourage them to put time into their calendar throughout the day as a reminder to get away from their desk.
Maybe it’s setting reminders on a mindfulness app to meditate once a day or blocking out lunchtime to go to the gym or get outside. Without teaching workers the tools that they need to combat burnout, the feeling of burnout can become crippling.
In most jobs, there will be stressful peaks in which you must work hard to meet a deadline. After the deadline is met, take a step back as a group to regroup and decompress. Encourage the use of PTO to take a break away after a particularly stressful time. Go out into the community together and do meaningful volunteer work.
Sage gives employees five days a year to go out into the community and make a difference, not only fostering personal growth but helping to give work a broader purpose.
When work is calmer, have each person on the team evaluate their system for personal productivity and time management to identify opportunities for improvement and address these before you hit another stressful peak.
Managers also need to be a role model for balance. It might seem simple, but all too often, leadership doesn’t practice what they preach. For example, avoid sending emails at 2 a.m. or responding to Slack messages while on vacation so that your employees feel empowered to follow your lead and also set boundaries.
Author of the best-selling book ‘Stress-proof’, Mithu Storoni, argues that protecting self-identify is also vital for employees to protect themselves from burnout.
She explains that self-identity, self-worth and social status operate at the heart of emotional exhaustion and burnout. Clearly defined roles and expectations, recognition and reward, and creating a culture of social support within an organization through shared goals and authentic leadership are just some of her tips to protect employees from burnout.
If you want to generate a great workforce experience for your people which means they feel supported and can fight burnout, it’s crucial to understand the current state of play. How do people feel about working at your company right now?
Your workforce is a diverse mix of personalities, character traits, and generations, with most companies having employees from Gen Z right through to Baby Boomers. They all have different needs and values so taking a one-size-fits-all approach to your workforce will not work.
Instead, take time to ask your people what makes a great workplace experience for them? A reason why one employee may be facing burnout may completely differ from another.
Our recent research report ‘Why your workforce isn’t working’ found that just 12% of employees we spoke to are asked on a regular basis what would improve their experiences at work. Almost half (47%) had never been asked at all.
Engage team leaders to sit down with their employees individually and explore what will create a better working environment for them. Often, exploring new ways of working for a few employees can lead to company-wide improvements.
Every company’s starting point is going to be different on the journey to delivering great employee experiences. Your business may be really strong in providing training and wellbeing right now but needs to look at improving its flexible working options.
Or perhaps you’re unsure what the employee experience actually is at the moment, so you may want to start by getting clear on what the current state of play is.
Ultimately, workers who are at risk of burnout need to prioritize getting their life back in balance and a company should focus on supporting them and arming them with the tools they need to relieve their stress.
Without a concerted effort to make changes, burnout will negatively impact a person’s health and career, as well as being detrimental to a company’s bottom line.
Are your teams too frazzled for their work to provide fruition? Find out what your workforce really think – and what gets them productive – by downloading our research report ‘Why your workforce isn’t working’.