Burnout is real, and like other experiences that cause high levels of stress, it can impact the health and mental well-being of those who suffer from it. Recognized by the World Health Organization (WHO) as an occupational phenomenon, burnout is considered a factor that can influence the health status of individuals who suffer from it. Unfortunately, workers across all industries are experiencing burnout more than ever before.
According to APA’s 2021 Work and Well-being Survey of 1,501 U.S. adult workers, 79% of employees had experienced work-related stress in the month before the survey. Nearly 3 in 5 employees reported negative impacts of work-related stress, including lack of interest, motivation, or energy (26%) and lack of effort at work (19%). Meanwhile, 36% reported cognitive weariness, 32% reported emotional exhaustion, and an astounding 44% reported physical fatigue—a 38% increase since 2019.
When burnout is identified, there are ways to recover. By learning the signs and causes of burnout, you can determine whether you or others on your team are suffering from the condition. Recovery takes effort and can be addressed with specific strategies that address the root causes of burnout and effectively improve your workplace culture.
What Are the Signs of Burnout at Work?
The WHO defines burnout as an occupational phenomenon with these symptoms.
- Negativity and cynicism at work and disinterest in work
- Reduced professional output
- Excessive stress
- Frustration and irritation with coworkers and clients
- Difficulty concentrating
- New or worsening symptoms of depression and anxiety
- Sleep problems
- Other physical symptoms like headaches, chest pain, and stomach pain
While burnout is a condition caused by an individual’s work and their relationship to work, it can affect every aspect of their life. Unfortunately, burnout isn’t always easy to recognize and has been frequently categorized as a short-term problem that will resolve itself with an easy fix like a single day off. The truth is, burnout usually comes on gradually and cannot be resolved unless the underlying causes of burnout are addressed. As an employer, it’s important to recognize burnout and find ways to decrease worker stress within your organization.
Causes of Burnout
While burnout is getting more attention as a crucial concern that can lead to health issues for individuals and a multitude of issues for businesses attempting to reduce turnover and maintain productivity, it remains difficult to resolve. At its core, burnout is connected to stress. When individuals experience and deal with stress in different ways, burnout can seem like it only affects a few people. It can even be brushed away as weakness or lack of enjoyment in one’s chosen profession. However, employees that seem to be coping successfully could actually be working toward a breaking point that won’t be recognized until unexpected turnover affects your organization.
To avoid unexpected turnover, companies need to be able to predict burnout before it occurs. While you can’t technically predict the future, knowing the most common reasons for burnout can help you resolve them and offer recovery options for your employees.
A Gallup study listed the top five factors that correlate most highly with employee burnout as:
- Unfair treatment at work
- Unmanageable workload
- Unclear communication from managers
- Lack of manager support
- Unreasonable time pressure
These findings correlate closely with research from Berkeley professor Christina Maslach, who listed these six factors that determine whether an individual will burn out.
An unmanageable workload can quickly generate a large amount of stress and lead to burnout, but it’s only one of three workload factors that lead to burnout.
- Quantity: Overly high expectations from managers and work scope creep often lead to an unmanageable workload.
- Difficulty: All too often, employees are required to complete tasks they lack the skills to complete or weren’t trained to do.
- Emotionality: Emotional work (like human services, emergency response, or medical professions) can be especially draining. It’s crucial to find ways to address burnout in these professions before it occurs.
While employees are aware they are at work to complete a specific job, everyone needs the ability to maintain a certain level of control over their surroundings and actions. When employees don’t have the ability to direct or modify the resources needed to complete tasks, or don’t have the authority to pursue work in the way they think is best, control drops to problematic levels.
In any business, people are the most important element of success. Yet, many employees aren’t recognized for their contributions. In 2019, even before the pandemic began, turnover was growing at rapid rates across a variety of industries. When surveyed, 79% of employee respondents cited a lack of appreciation as the major reason for leaving their jobs. Rewards come in the form of recognition, fair compensation, and benefits that address overall health as well as a work/life balance.
The best work environments are those in which employees feel like they belong. In fact, a recent RallyBright study confirmed that a sense of belonging is the strongest predictor of job satisfaction and turnover intent. Belonging also serves as a mitigating influence on burnout; in the same study, where belonging was high, 16.4 percent of respondents indicated they agreed or strongly agreed to feeling burned out from their work; where belonging was low, that feeling of burnout jumped to 43.7 percent.
The high-stress environment of an unfair or discriminatory work place can lead to burnout quickly. While many of the other factors on this list are strong contributors to burnout, lack of fairness in the workplace is the tipping point for many employees. Experiencing unfair treatment is emotionally upsetting, and it leads to the belief that one’s company or leadership has unjust motives, leading to a significantly higher likelihood of developing burnout.
When company and employee values are aligned, both parties work toward common goals. However, when a company’s values don’t align with that of the employees or the company acts inconsistently with values it purports to hold, employees are more likely to face burnout. When employees are asked to do something that fails to align with their values on a repeated basis, they’re more likely to develop cynicism and detachment.
How to Help Your Team Recover from Burnout
Understanding the symptoms and causes of burnout can lead you to the solutions that can help your team recover and avoid the negative side effects to your organization. 69% of employees don’t feel their employer does enough to minimize burnout, and 42% of employees have left a job specifically because they felt burned out. These numbers make it clear that employers should be making more of an effort to reduce the causes of burnout. Consider how these strategies can help you prevent burnout on your team.
- Renew the organization’s focus on purpose. When your team has a big-picture view of what the company or organization is driving toward, employees become more engaged. Connect each team member’s role to organizational missions and values to reinforce the purpose of each task.
- Provide and encourage time for recharge and recovery. It’s essential to not only provide time to relax and maintain good health, but also to consider how comfortable your employees feel taking time off. Note employees who rarely take time off and encourage them to plan a break. Conduct one-on-one meetings to gauge the well-being of your employees and determine if additional time off is needed.
- Foster individual well-being. Employees handle stress in different ways. By getting a sense of your employees’ personalities and carefully delegating specific tasks, you can reduce stress and help eliminate the causes of burnout.
- Give frequent praise. Positive feedback fuels feelings of positivity and motivation at work and increases a sense of purpose. It also encourages learning and further improvement.
- Increase collaboration in the workplace. A sense of belonging is one of the most powerful antidotes to burnout. By increasing inclusive collaboration, you can build a more inclusive workplace that naturally fosters belonging.
- Build a culture of gratitude. Workplaces characterized by gratitude enjoy higher productivity and job satisfaction. By creating a culture in which it’s normal for team members and upper management to express gratitude, you can increase engagement and a sense of purpose.
Burnout Is a Serious Issue, Give Your Team the Support it Needs
A single bad day at work doesn’t lead to burnout. Most often, it’s a culmination of ongoing issues that makes a workplace unbearable. When your team suffers the effects of burnout, their physical and mental health suffer. By addressing the root causes of burnout, you can increase employee morale and build an improved workplace culture that will reduce turnover.
Ready to help your team build a collaborative environment, increase focus, and improve performance? Schedule a demo of the RallyBright Platform for teams.