The coronavirus crisis has forced many of us to make big changes to adapt. Employees have had to quickly learn how to work from home, contend with sharing small spaces with family members all day, and take on additional caretaking or home-schooling responsibilities. 

All of these changes are driving up stress and anxiety—and leading to increased rates of employee burnout. Because burnout can have significant negative effects on an organization, it’s vital that leaders take steps to prevent, reduce, and manage burnout in their team members.

Related: Guide to Managing Burnout [download]

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 work burnout include:

  • Exhaustion
  • 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.

Burnout is often associated with careers that are extremely demanding or stressful—yet the condition can strike employees in virtually any role in any industry. The condition is quite common; two-thirds of full-time employees report experiencing burnout, according to a Gallup study.

Worse, burnout can sometimes hit your most engaged, motivated, and productive employees—who are often prone to taking on more work than your other team members. In addition, burnout 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 comes to $125 billion 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, work 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. In addition, provide additional 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.

Assess workloads

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 encourage the burnout of your most productive employees.

Make sure your high-performing employees aren’t “rewarded” by being given more and more to do. In addition, 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 you to revisit your organization’s work policies in general. Do your team members receive adequate vacation time to recharge? Are they given the opportunity to take mental health days should they be experiencing the beginning symptoms of burnout or other mental health concerns? Do you allow employees to take advantage of flexible work options such as telecommuting or nontraditional work hours? 

Asking these questions will 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. These inequities 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 forestall 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

Give employees easy-to-access options to help them manage work-related stress. Unfortunately traditional health care programs 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 position to investigate what mental healthcare services are covered by their health insurance and which care providers in their area accept their insurance. 

In addition, traditional health care programs 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, further lowering their productivity and lowering their sense of work competence and satisfaction. 

Free- or low-cost mental health care benefits can help your team members prevent or manage burnout with professional help. A mental health benefit that allows members to immediately get screened for burnout or other mental health concerns through a clinically-evaluated online diagnostic—then matches them up with the exact type and level of care they need—will help your team members manage burnout faster—or avoid burnout altogether.


There are also a variety of strategies individuals can take to prevent or manage burnout on a personal level. For tips you can use yourself or share with your team, download our Guide to Managing Burnout

At Spring Health, we help employers modernize their behavioral health benefits with the most comprehensive solution for employee mental well-being. All Spring Health members receive access to Moments, Spring Health’s library of wellness exercises, which includes a module on burnout that includes coping strategies for burnout and compassion fatigue. 

Spring Health provides a single front door to any type of care, from digital exercises to Employee Assistance Program (EAP) services to coaching, therapy, or medication management. Contact us to learn more or schedule a demo to see how Spring Health can support your team members.

Siel Ju
Siel is Spring Health's content marketing manager.

November 4, 2020