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I’ve witnessed the unique dynamics of stress-related burnout in the workplace firsthand. At a previous company, working as a member of a mid-size team in an open office layout, I had a clear view (and often, an ear) into the daily interactions among my colleagues.
As the industry digitally transformed, the threat to our business model became increasingly severe. Stress, anxiety, and long hours became commonplace for many team members. Several colleagues had voiced dissatisfaction with leadership or job roles before the “new normal” of keeping pace with digital changes.
Over time, the signs of stress-related burnout also began to affect team leaders. Gradually, I witnessed key contributors regularly gathering to share their work-related grievances.
Some employees lost motivation to pursue professional goals contributing to the organization’s success. Learning new skills or software to boost performance and career growth within the company became less feasible. The pervasive sentiment among our workforce shifted to “surviving the day.”
The contagious nature of stress-related burnout started affecting the emotional well-being of more and more team members. The enthusiasm for their work was gone, and it wasn’t long before we saw an increasing number of extended personal leaves of absence and resignations stacking up.
The state of employee burnout in the workplace
Employee burnout has become an ongoing crisis in workplaces, globally. The constant, day-to-day stress that often leads to burnout is now considered an unfortunate, almost expected part of the job.
Metrics gauging the state of work in 2023 show that levels of stress have not significantly reduced since the global pandemic in 2019, when the World Health Organization (WHO) declared burnout an “occupational phenomenon” in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11).
The WHO defines burnout as "a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." Another way to view employee burnout is “a state of emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress—where a worker has reached their limits mentally, emotionally, and physically.”
Leading researcher and social psychologist Christina Maslach identifies three dimensions of burnout:
- Emotional exhaustion or feelings of energy depletion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job—or negative feelings toward one’s job
- Reduced sense of personal accomplishment or efficacy at work
The good news is that a wealth of information is now readily available on this topic from various high-quality industry resources online. This accessibility empowers HR and People leaders to better recognize, prevent, and reverse stress-related burnout in their workplace environments by fostering awareness and presence as their initial steps.
Digging deeper into the dynamics of burnout
The number of hours employees work has a limited influence on the risk of stress-related burnout. How they perceive and experience their work carries greater weight in this regard.
In fact, engaged employees who enjoy more flexibility in their roles often choose to work more hours per week than the average employee. When workers feel supported and motivated in their jobs, they become inspired to accomplish more, fostering creativity and innovation.
It’s essential to keep in mind these job-related stressors that can trigger employee burnout:
- Lack of support from leaders
- Poor or inconsistent communication with leaders
- Minimal input or influence over tasks, processes, and role expectations
- Overwhelming workloads or unrealistic role expectations
- Insufficient recognition for completed tasks or achieved goals
- Perceptions of unfair treatment from leaders or colleagues
- A diminished sense of team cohesion or belonging in the workplace
Why prioritizing employee burnout is important
A recent Deloitte survey found that 77% of respondents have experienced burnout in their current jobs. Furthermore, 91% indicate that unmanageable stress or frustration impacts the quality of their work, and 83% express concerns about the toll burnout takes on their relationships.
The survey also reveals nearly 70% of professionals believe their employers are not doing enough to prevent or alleviate burnout. .
When not appropriately addressed by HR and People leaders, the ramifications of stress-related burnout can have serious consequences for both employees and employers.
Employees experiencing burnout due to work-related stress are at greater risk of developing mental health issues like depression and anxiety.
A significant decline in an employee’s mental or emotional well-being can impair cognitive functions essential to effective job performance. This can include attention, concentration, short-term memory, and alertness.
Stress-related burnout can also have adverse effects on an employee’s physical health, elevating the risk of:
- Cardiovascular disease
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Gastrointestinal problems
- Weakened immunity against illness
The repercussions of burnout in the workplace extend to healthcare costs, contributing to an annual expenditure of nearly $190 billion.
Employee productivity and performance
Employees experiencing burnout due to increased stress levels display reduced productivity and effectiveness in their roles. This decline in job performance typically comes hand-in-hand with a shift toward a less positive attitude, diminished enthusiasm for their work, decreased commitment to the organization’s success, and an uptick in missed workdays.
The cost for employers
The tangible costs of stress-related employee burnout for employers include mental and physical healthcare expenses, decreased work output and productivity, and the cost associated with hiring and training new employees due to turnover.
Here are some numbers to underscore the full extent of the impact of employee burnout:
- Job-related stress contributes to approximately $550 million lost workdays each year
- Employee turnover is estimated to cost organizations about $15,000 per employee
- WHO estimates that $1 trillion is lost in productivity each year.
How to support employees experiencing stress-related burnout
Employee burnout is often more of an organizational concern than an individual worker’s issue. HR and People leaders can provide meaningful support by cultivating a workplace environment that genuinely backs employees, supported by actions rather than words.
When employees feel supported by their leaders, inspired in their role, and motivated in their mission, the risk of stress-related burnout significantly decreases. Championing policies that promote employee mental health and well-being reinforces their drive to excel daily.
Here are key steps HR and People leaders can take to better support employees dealing with stress-related burnout:
- Develop excellent communication skills and prioritize active listening.
- Maintain open channels of communication with HR and company leadership to ensure awareness of the situation.
- Offer personalized coaching to team members, equipping them with strategies to address stress-inducing challenges.
- Increase personal encouragement and positive feedback for completed work.
- Facilitate open and honest conversations daily.
- Continuously monitor and adjust workloads as needed. In times of significant stress or burnout, redistribute responsibilities to other team members.
- Educate yourself on the signs and symptoms of stress-related burnout to better assist your employees.
- Act as a coach, guiding your team members toward wellness and a healthy work-life balance.
- Offer mental health days and flexible work schedules when needed.
- Offer accessible mental health support and resources available to help manage work-related stress.
Traditional EAPs often involve an inconvenient process for employees to access the necessary care. An employee dealing with burnout may need help navigating the intricacies of mental healthcare services and insurance coverage.
Offering free or low-cost mental healthcare benefits can assist team members in managing stress-related burnout with the help of trained professionals.
For example, Spring Health provides employees with a clinically validated assessment to screen for burnout and other mental health concerns. A personalized care plan is then tailored to help employees manage and prevent burnout while receiving the care they need for other mental health issues.
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