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In the last few years, we've been faced with a global pandemic, civil unrest, a competitive labor market, and a worldwide reassessment of priorities. So, it’s no surprise that rates of depression, anxiety, and stress in the workplace are on the rise. In fact, according to our Burnout Nation report, 76% of American workers report experiencing burnout.
Burnout is everywhere, disrupting people’s lives and damaging companies. And it's preventable, by providing fast access to comprehensive mental healthcare to your employees.
What is employee burnout?
Employee burnout is a state of physical and emotional exhaustion, often reached after an extended period of high stress. The three primary symptoms of workplace burnout include:
- Feeling negative, cynical, or detached from work
- Reduced work performance
An employee experiencing burnout might often seem tired, act unusually irritable, or complain about difficulties concentrating. They may also question their value to the organization, express a sense that their work doesn’t matter, or seem less confident about the quality of their work. Burnout can also cause employees to be less productive, call in sick more often, and even leave their jobs altogether.
It's often associated with careers that are extremely demanding or stressful—yet the condition can strike employees in virtually any role in any industry, and it's quite common. Two-thirds of full-time employees report experiencing burnout, according to a Gallup study.
Burnout can even affect your most engaged, motivated, and productive employees, who are often prone to taking on more work (and less time off) than your other team members. And it can be triggered by unpaid labor outside the workplace, such as parenting, caretaking for the elderly, or managing difficult relationships.
The high cost of employee burnout
Employee burnout is an extremely costly phenomenon for organizations. Harvard Business Review estimates that the annual cost of healthcare spending due to workplace burnout is $125 to $190 billion. In addition, burned-out employees are 13% less confident in their performance and 63% more likely to take a sick day, according to a Gallup study. The same study also found that burned-out employees are 2.6 times more likely to actively seek a different job—driving up turnover rates at affected companies.
Since employee turnover is estimated to cost organizations about $15,000 per employee, it is essential to reduce employee burnout to improve retention.
How to prevent and address employee burnout
Employee burnout is usually not just an individual problem but an organizational one. This means that managers, leaders, and HR professionals can significantly reduce employee burnout by working to shape the work environment and culture to prevent burnout.
Here are some key ways organizations can prevent and manage work burnout.
Keep communication channels open
Employees experiencing stress sometimes keep their concerns to themselves—leading to additional overwork and, eventually, workplace burnout. Make sure your team members feel supported and comfortable so they can bring up issues of concern in the workplace.
Consider training managers on techniques for encouraging open communication. Also provide dedicated channels for raising employee concerns, whether that’s through an HR department with an open-door policy, a method of gathering and answering anonymous suggestions or questions, or another creative solution that best fits your organization.
Too often, organizations recognize high-performing employees by giving them more duties and responsibilities than other team members in the same role. This not only creates unfair work imbalances, but also can lead to burning out your most productive employees.
Make sure your high-performing employees aren’t “rewarded” by being given more and more to do. Clearly define roles and duties, and give each employee adequate time and resources to complete their work well without undue time pressures.
Promote healthy work habits
Work cultures that explicitly or implicitly encourage employees to stay at the workplace late and put in a lot of overtime—or discourage them from taking breaks or days off—can quickly lead to employee burnout. To truly support your workforce, discourage overwork and encourage team members to draw boundaries between work and home life.
Part of this effort may require revisiting your organization’s work policies in general:
- Do your team members receive adequate vacation time to recharge?
- Are they encouraged to take mental health days when they experience the beginning symptoms of burnout or other mental health concerns?
- Do your employees have flexible work options, such as telecommuting or nontraditional work hours?
Asking these questions can help you determine if you need to update your policies to allow for a more supportive work culture.
Aim for fairness
Burnout is often fueled by perceived inequities in the workplace. This may be due to individual concerns—such as a manager’s favoritism of one employee over another—as well as organizational ones—such as a company’s general hiring and promotion practices. To avoid employee burnout, ensure everything—from your compensation policies to diversity and equity initiatives—supports all employees. This is especially important to prevent the burnout of employees from traditionally marginalized or underrepresented populations.
Offer mental health support
Your employees need easy-to-access options to help them manage work-related stress.
Unfortunately, traditional EAPs often require employees to spend a lot of time jumping through hoops to get the care they need. An employee already exhausted due to burnout is not in the best headspace to investigate which mental healthcare services and therapists are covered by their insurance.
Traditional EAPs often require employees to wait for weeks for a first appointment with a therapist or psychiatrist. During this time, the team member’s condition may worsen, lowering their productivity, confidence, and sense of work competence and satisfaction even further.
Free- or low-cost mental healthcare benefits can help your team members prevent or manage burnout with professional support.
With Spring Health, the first step for employees is to be screened for burnout and other mental health concerns through our clinically-validated assessment. A personalized care plan is created, to help the employee manage and prevent burnout, and get the care they need for any other mental health issues as well.
If therapy is part of the recommended plan, employees can get an initial appointment in less than two days. Additionally, with Spring Health, all your employees receive access to Moments, our digital library of wellness exercises—which includes coping strategies for burnout and compassion fatigue.
Get your copy of our guide to gain more strategies for preventing and managing burnout at work, including tips you can share with your team.