It has gone from being a workplace euphemism to a full-fledged syndrome listed by the World Health Organization. Employee burnout is a big problem for employers, but there are clear warning signs to spot it and steps companies can take to stop it.
Burnout, according to Gallup, affects about three-quarters of employees at some point, with about a fifth reporting frequent burnout.
That prevalence comes at a huge price: $3,400 for every $10,000 of employee salary, according to Gallup.
The Harvard Business Review (HBR) paints an equally bleak picture, finding that depletion places a $125 billion to $190 billion burden on health care costs — 8% of national health care spending as of 2019. HBR also found less quantifiable, but perhaps more worrisome, prices than salary firms: lower productivity, higher turnover, the loss of top-skilled staff, and the cost of replacing them.
So how can you tell when an employee has started the burnout spiral? There are several signs, but Forbes recently narrowed them down to the three most common.
The first is decreased productivity and performance. Increased irritability and exhaustion are often indicators.
The second is increased negativity, towards co-workers, managers, and even clients. This may manifest itself in more cynical statements or complaints.
Forbes’ third sign is when an employee becomes more mentally distant from their team or the company as a whole. An increase in missed work or absences are signs.
“Continue to look for those big symptoms, but also look for the micro-symptoms, like tiredness or distractibility,” Batzler said, “or someone who is always sharp as a tack, but now they just forget things, or are behind on a deadline, and that is not characteristic of that person.”
Causes and remedies
A Gallup study identified five main triggers for burnout, and they’re no surprise:
- Unfair treatment at work.
- Unmanageable workload
- Lack of clarity about the role of a job.
- Lack of communication and support from the manager.
- Unreasonable time pressures or deadlines
It makes sense that specific countermeasures count among the suggested solutions. Consider these tips to combat burnout in your business:
- Keep workloads reasonable. Jobs vary, one employee may not get all the projects while another is killing time.
- Make sure managers encourage fairness. Don’t play favorites, weed out those who mistreat their co-workers, and don’t give benefits to some employees but not to others.
- Provide mental health sessions. More and more companies are making mental health days (also not part of paid days off) part of their corporate cultures. They are also creating plans and policies to support mental health, as well as encouraging conversations and counseling about mental health. Capital Blue Cross, for example, offers a behavioral health toolkit for employer groups.
- Provide support resources. An Employee Assistance Program (EAP), like the one Capital Blue Cross offers its staff, is one example. EAPs provide confidential and sometimes free advice. Employers can also provide stress reduction training, such as the virtual course Capital Blue Cross recently offered to its employees.
- “Employers who are really concerned about burnout need to proactively take steps to set boundaries that insulate their employees from burnout,” Batzler said, “and that gives them legitimate opportunities to relax.”
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