The current U.S. work environment has left many employees living where they work, making it harder to deal with workplace stress. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic—when many workers transitioned to home offices—employee burnout was already a big issue. In 2019, the World Health Organization declared workplace burnout an occupational phenomenon. Employers need to be proactive about recognizing the symptoms of employee burnout and learn how to prevent it to safeguard their workers’ mental health.

What is Employee Burnout?

According to the World Health Organization, employee burnout is a syndrome resulting from chromic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. But burnout is more than just feeling stress. Workplace burnout can follow employees throughout the week, leaving them feeling unenthusiastic and unmotivated about work. An employee might feel dread the night before about going into work, feel uninspired or unengaged when at work and even have feelings of general unhappiness.

A Gallup study of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. That means about two-thirds of your full-time workers are likely to experience burnout on the job. It also means your burned out employees could seriously impact your business.

The True Cost of Burned Out Employees

Workers who are suffering from burnout don’t perform as highly as those who are satisfied with their job and engaged.

According to Gallup, employees who experience burnout are:

  • 63% more likely to take a sick day
  • Half as likely to discuss performance goals with their manager
  • 23% more likely to visit the emergency room
  • 2.6 times as likely to leave their current employer
  • 13% less confident in their performance

The effects of employee burnout can lead to increased healthcare costs, disengaged employees and turnover.

Forbes shares that burnout costs between $125 billion and $190 billion every year in healthcare costs. And researchers estimate that workplace stress accounts for 8% of national spending on healthcare. Physically, burnout can manifest with symptoms including exhaustion, headaches, gastrointestinal disturbances, sleeplessness and shortness of breath. These common symptoms might not directly point to employee burnout as the underlying issue, leading to repeat visits to healthcare providers to find a solution.

Burnout can also cause employees to be disengaged, i.e., to dislike going into work or putting in any extra effort. Disengaged employees cost their employers 34% of their annual salary as a result. In contrast, engaged employees perform better. Companies in the top quartile of employee engagement reeled in 147% the earnings per share (EPS) compared to companies in the bottom quartile. Higher engagement can give companies an edge over the competition. The same Gallup study revealed that engaged workers experience 70% fewer safety incidents.

Employees suffering from burnout are more likely to quit. Forbes mentions that burnout is responsible for 20% to 50% of employee turnover. And the more employees you lose to turnover, the more it costs your company. It’s estimated employee turnover costs U.S. companies about $15,000 per worker. With the actual costs of employee burnout potentially being extremely high, it is imperative to understand what causes employee burnout.

Common Causes of Employee Burnout

There are several factors that can lead to employee burnout.

  • Employees aren’t being treated fairly. When employees feel that biases or favoritism exist or that they aren’t treated well by coworkers or compensated fairly, they are 2.3 times more likely to experience a high level of burnout. If employees don’t trust their manager or the company itself, they won’t feel like a part of the team or remain loyal.
  • Employees can’t manage their workload. If an employee can’t get ahead with their work and feel as if they have no breathing space, they are more likely to constantly feel stressed. Many times, unclear and even impossible work requirements are the culprits of a demanding workload. Inaccurate job descriptions, requirements that constantly change or tasks that can’t be completed in time put workers at a higher risk of burnout. If your employees can never feel successful in their positions, their engagement level will quickly drop.
  • Employees don’t understand their roles. According to Gallup’s State of the American Workplace report, only 60% of workers can strongly agree that they know what is expected of them at work. Without clarity, employees won’t know their responsibilities and won’t be able to set performance goals, leading to feelings of failure. 
  • Employees face extreme consequences for failure. Mistakes happen; they can be a valuable learning tool. Many employees will strive to avoid repeating their past mistakes. But if dire consequences exist for failure, like being fired, work becomes much more stressful. Employees are at a higher risk for burnout when the consequences for failure are severe.
  • Employees have no personal control. Micromanaging and restricting how employees can do their job, leads to frustration with their position. Workers who have no creative control or can’t freely make decisions that impact their work environment are at a greater risk for burnout.
  • Employees aren’t recognized for their work. Employees need to feel noticed and appreciated. Without recognition, employees may feel undervalued. Acknowledging them directly and frequently helps them understand how their work impacts the bigger picture. Without recognition, employees become disengaged and negative, which leads to burnout.
  • Employees aren’t compensated for their work. Some positions are always going to be more stressful than others, but if an employee is well compensated for their work, they are more likely to bear that stress. Yet if a position features high demand with little reward, workers will quickly decide the position isn’t worth the grief it causes.
  • Employees suffer from poor leadership. Company leadership is one of the factors that can influence many others. It falls upon your managers and supervisors to explain work responsibilities, treat employees fairly, support workers and recognize them for their hard work. If poor leadership exists, all of these managerial tasks go undone, leaving employees at greater risk for burnout.

How Employers Can Prevent Burnout

Recognizing the signs of employee burnout is the first step toward preventing it. Yet companies can also create a work environment that is focused on fostering their workers’ mental health.

  • Make well-being part of your company culture. According to Gallup, when an organization makes wellbeing a priority of its culture and provides resources for employees to live healthier lives, they take better care of themselves. Examples of a company culture focused on wellbeing includes offering flexible work schedules, supporting employees’ work/life balance, providing lunch when projects are completed, free or reduced gym memberships, and having an open-door policy that encourages communication with managers.
  • Train managers to recognize burnout. Since managers are the driving force behind many burnout factors, it is necessary to train them about prevention. It is the managers’ duty to set clear expectations, remove barriers, facilitate collaboration and appreciate employees. Gallup notes that managers greatly influence how employees feel about their job. And when they take an active role, managers can reverse burnout and prevent further burnout before it starts.
  • Create an employee experience that reduces burnout. Improving every stage of the employee experience can prevent burnout. The employee experience starts with hiring and onboarding, continues through performance and development and eventually ends with promotion or departure. Focusing on making all of these stages’ positive can impact how your employees view their role and your company. For example, a great candidate experience—one improves the time candidates spend with you and showcases your brand—gives you the ability to attract top talent and retain them to empower your team.

How Employees Can Mitigate Burnout

While employers can make adjustments to help prevent burnout, so too can employees. Recovering from burnout won’t happen overnight but implementing the following strategies can improve everyone’s mental health and overall wellbeing.

Focus on Self-Care

Self-care is taking care of your body, mind and soul every day. When we’re already busy, most of us feel guilty about taking time for ourselves, but self-care actions can save you from the corrosive effects of everyday stress.

  1. Skip the fast food. Healthy eating is a cornerstone of self-care. Eating the right foods can help prevent short-term memory loss and inflammation, both of which can have long-term effects on the brain and the rest of the body. Choose healthier lunch and snack options. Bring your own lunch or choose restaurants with fresh, healthy options. Some great self-care foods include fatty fish, blueberries, nuts, green leafy veggies and brassicas, like broccoli.
  2. Take a break outside. Studies have even shown that getting outside can help reduce fatigue, making it a great way to overcome symptoms of depression or burnout. Being outside also helps reduce stress, lowers the blood pressure and promotes mindfulness. Take breaks outside by going for a quick walk or doing something active outdoors when you get home.
  3. Exercise Daily. Daily exercise can help you both physically and mentally, boosting your mood and reducing stress and anxiety and shedding extra weight. Go to the gym over your lunch break or take a yoga class after work. Making exercise part of your daily routine will help reinforce the habit.
  4. Get more sleep. Sleep is a basic need and workplace stress can cause havoc on your sleep cycles, according to Psychology Today. Develop a bedtime routine that sets your body up for a good night’s sleep: no eating or drinking before bed, limit caffeine and sugar intake, let go of workday stress and make sure your bedroom is dark and free of distractions.
  5. Make self-care a priority. Be okay with doing one thing for yourself every day. Watch a movie, take a bath, read a book, meet with friends or meditate. When you work self-care time into your schedule, you’ll destress and enjoy your life.

Improve Your Relationships

Your work relationships have a huge impact on your daily stress level. Communicate with your manager about your workload and responsibilities. If a role isn’t clear, ask your manager for clarification. Set boundaries for yourself and allow yourself to say no. Workers that say ‘yes’ to every opportunity can quickly find themselves overloaded with tasks. Consider your current workload before taking on new projects.

Spend time with your coworkers. Going to lunch or taking a walk together on break can build relationships with coworkers. According to Indeed, positive workplace relationships can:

  • Increase your satisfaction with your career
  • Increase your comfort during presentations and team meetings
  • Improve productivity for all team members
  • Offer moral support and assistance meeting difficult timelines

Change How You Think About Work

Adapting work habits that allow you to be more organized and efficient can help you manage your workload and reduce stress. These habits include:

  • Focusing on one thing at a time, instead of multi-tasking
  • Working at a steady pace
  • Breaking down tasks into smaller achievable parts
  • Celebrating small successes
  • Taking regular assigned breaks
  • Only working overtime when necessary
  • Resisting working while on vacation

Performance management is a great tool to keep the lines of communication open with your employees. The goal of performance management is to make sure your employees are performing at their best and to stay on top of any issues that might arise. Arcoro’s Performance Management Software provides the insight needed to make informed personnel decisions with robust reporting, real-time monitoring and time-saving automation. With regular performance management, managers will be able to spot signs of burnout and quickly take steps to help their employees reduce stress.

The Arcoro system has tools and features that allow both managers and employees to track performance.

Managers are able to approve and manage employee goals, assign evaluations, add notes for your employees and see overall performance scores. These include:

  • One-click access to performance and goals
  • Current goals list
  • Configurable integration into a standard evaluation form
  • Automatic notifications and reminders
  • 360-degree feedback capabilities

For employees, a dashboard provides users visibility to track their own progress and see upcoming tasks and goals. The dashboard includes:

  • Progress-tracking with steps
  • Alerts when a review needs an employee’s attention
  • Evaluation forms
  • An electronic sign-off

Schedule time to talk with an Arcoro expert for free to learn about creating a culture of engagement, reducing burnout and retaining employees long-term.