It’s morphed from a workplace euphemism to a full-blown syndrome on the World Health Organization’s list. Employee burnout is a big problem for employers, but there are clear warning signs to detect it, and steps businesses can take to stem it.
In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) lent some serious weight to the once-colloquial phrase “professional burnout,” elevating it to an official syndrome on its international classification of diseases.
WHO declared burnout an “occupational phenomenon … resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.”
Addressing workplace burnout has become an increasingly difficult challenge for employees and employers alike.
“I believe it’s the top issue for businesses today,” said Karie Batzler, director of behavioral health at Capital Blue Cross. “There’s nothing more important than taking care of ourselves and our employees, and attrition due to burnout wreaks havoc with a company’s ability to breed consistency with its customers or clients.”
Burnout, according to Gallup, affects roughly three-quarters of employees at some point, and about a fifth report having burnout often.
That prevalence comes with a huge price tag: $3,400 for every $10,000 in employee salary, according to Gallup.
The Harvard Business Review (HBR) paints a similarly grim picture, finding that burnout puts a $125 billion to $190 billion burden on healthcare costs – 8% of the national health care spend as of 2019. HBR also found less quantifiable, but perhaps more troubling, prices that businesses pay: lower productivity, higher turnover, the loss of the most capable personnel, and the cost to replace them.
So how can you tell when an employee has begun the burnout spiral? There are several signs, but Forbes recently narrowed them to the three most common.
The first is decreased productivity and performance. Increased irritability and exhaustion are often tells.
The second is increased negativity – toward coworkers, managers, even customers. This may manifest itself with more cynical statements or complaints.
Forbes’ third sign is when an employee becomes more mentally detached from his team or the company as a whole. A spike in missed work or absences are signals.
“Continue to look for those large symptoms, but also look for the more micro-symptoms, like weariness, or absent-mindedness,” Batzler said, “or someone who’s always sharp as a tack, but now they’re just forgetting things, or they’re late on a deadline, and that’s uncharacteristic for that person.”
Causes – and Remedies
A Gallup study pinpointed five main triggers to burnout, and they’re hardly surprises:
- Unfair treatment at work
- Unmanageable workload
- Lack of clarity about a job’s role
- Lack of manager communication and support
- Unreasonable time pressures or deadlines
It makes sense that specific countermeasures would count among suggested fixes. Consider these tips to battle burnout at your business:
- Make workloads reasonable. Jobs vary, one employee cannot get all the projects while another is killing time.
- Make sure managers encourage fairness. Don’t play favorites, remove those who mistreat coworkers, and don’t grant perks to some employees but not others.
- Grant mental health days. More and more companies are making mental health days – in addition, not as part, of paid-time-off days – part of their corporate cultures. They are also creating plans and policies to support mental health, as well as encouraging conversations and counseling around mental health. Capital Blue Cross, for instance, offers a behavioral health toolkit for employer groups.
- Provide supportive resources. An Employee Assistance Program (EAP), such as the one Capital Blue Cross offers its staff, is one example. EAPs provide confidential and sometimes free counseling. Employers also can provide instruction on stress reduction, such as the virtual course Capital Blue Cross recently offered its employees.
- “Employers who are truly concerned about burnout need to proactively take steps to set boundaries that insulate their employees from exhaustion,” Batzler said, “and that provides them with opportunities to legitimately decompress.”
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