Tomas wakes up every Monday, struggling to come to terms with the fact that he has another 5 days to go before the weekend. Dread surfaces as he thinks of all the pending tasks at work, all the scheduled meetings, and the unreasonable deadlines. 

As he waits for the fog to clear, he starts wondering if he would ever feel happy about his job again. And as Tomas finally logs off at the end of yet another long, exhausting workday, he feels disillusioned, irritated, and fatigued—mentally and physically.

Work can be stressful. No matter how much you love your job, it will likely cause you significant stress at some point. The source of this stress could be the workplace environment, health issues, or personal circumstances. 

But what do you do when this stress grows out of a proportion that you can comfortably handle? You run a high risk of being burned out.

What is employee burnout?

Everyone has a bad day on the job. Every company has employees who don’t give their 100% all the time. But employee burnout isn’t just that one day of fatigue or disinterest towards your job. It’s a symptom of something more serious.

The World Health Organization defines burnout as the result of chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. Three symptoms flag burnout:

  1. Feelings of perpetual exhaustion,
  2. Feelings of negativity toward one’s job, and
  3. Reduced professional capacity.

Burnout can be taxing to one's mental and physical well-being and may lead to a negative attitude, exhaustion, and chronic anxiety. In severe cases, burnout can result in heart disease, mental health issues, gastrointestinal issues, or even death. 

But employee burnout is not simply a personal issue. It has serious implications on every part of your business. A study by Harvard Business Review estimates that the annual healthcare costs due to workplace burnout range from $125 billion to $190 billion.

But employee burnout isn’t just that one day of fatigue or disinterest towards your job. It’s a symptom of something more serious.

The far-reaching effects of burnout. Image from Gallup.

Increasing levels of burnout in the post-COVID era

The COVID-19 pandemic has escalated concerns around employee burnout. Last year was earmarked with worries around job security, personal health, and an economic crisis. Add to this the unfamiliarity with remote work, worsening work-life balance for some, and health concerns—it is not a surprise that more employees are feeling the heat of burnout.

Though COVID-19 amplified conversations around burnout, the issue in itself is nothing new. Burnout existed long before the advent of the pandemic, and it will continue to exist long after it passes. This is why every single step that’s taken towards mitigating burnout needs to be well-thought-out and strategized as part of a standard operating model.

5 ways to tackle employee burnout

There are many cases where employers can’t do much to help curb burnout—especially,  in situations where burnout stems from a very personal issue of an employee. Still, there is so much more that can be done to tackle burnout at the workplace. 

Following are a few ways in which companies can take a solid step towards preventing or addressing burnout.

Prioritize mental well-being as a part of your culture

In a distributed working environment where face-to-face interactions are no longer prevalent, employees may feel isolated and lose a sense of belonging. Companies must take decisive action in ensuring that employees who feel stressed out, unheard, tired, and demotivated have a channel to address these issues positively. Your whole workplace culture needs to be centered around nourishing the mental well-being of your employees.

Many companies have done this by introducing activities to reduce stress. Wellness, meditation, or fitness apps have become popular new benefits for employees. 

At Goodera, we use RoundGlass Reach to curate wellbeing programs for our employees. The app facilitates meditation sessions, free therapy sessions, mindfulness webinars, and a repository of wellness content that are accessible to all our employees. 

24% of American employees say that better mental health-related policies at work would help them combat burnout. 

Encourage a healthy work-life balance

Most thought leaders that talk about changing workplace cultures have stressed how the lines between work and one’s personal life have significantly blurred. With work from home, most employees have to be simultaneously cognizant of two environments—the one at home and the one at work. Workdays can extend longer without the travel back home punctuating a long day at the office, when WFH policies aren’t managed correctly.

This is a problem that can be entirely tackled by employers through healthy workplace policies. You might need to look at optimizing a suite of workplace practices to make this happen:

  • How structured are your meetings? 
  • How efficiently are your managers assigning work? 
  • Are top performers being burdened with more work? 

Start by answering these questions to ensure that your employees’ workday does not go any longer than necessary.

30% of American employees say that reducing the number of hours spent working would help them avoid or reduce the susceptibility of burnout. Remember, there is a link between proper rest and productivity.

Promote healthy conversations at the workplace

Healthy communication between employees and managers plays a vital role in mitigating the effects of employee burnout. No workplace is better than one where an employee can trust their employer enough to have honest conversations about what is stressing him/her out and suggest possible solutions. If employees feel that their managers do not actively listen to them, it won’t be long before they feel unheard and insignificant. 

Managers need to be supportive and understanding of employees who report to them. Their reaction towards supporting an employee who is in a stressful situation will determine the loyalty and commitment that an employee will show towards his role. You can refer to 360Learning’s manager’s guide to preventing burnout to find tips to starting a conversation around work-related stress with your team:

burnout cheat sheet

26% of American employees believe that support and empathy from managers would help curtail burnout.

Equip managers to drive a positive workplace experience

Managers wield significant power in addressing employee burnout. In many cases, it is a manager’s attitude towards the employee that influences the latter’s decision to stay in a job or leave. If a manager has a habit of micromanaging, it could signal a lack of trust that burdens employees and frustrates them.

Managers must provide clear expectations, remove barriers, communicate effectively, define outcomes, and set boundaries. Give employees enough freedom to organize and deliver on their priorities without stepping towards micromanagement. How employees feel about their job is largely on the manager's shoulders. 

Related: Classic Management Training is Failing Your Employees—Here’s What They Need Instead

Employees who feel supported by their managers are 70% less likely to experience employee burnout symptoms.

Enable employees to fulfill their personal purpose

Lack of power can be very frustrating, especially to purpose-driven employees who wish to do a lot more to address social justice issues around them. With hectic work schedules, employees find it very difficult to engage in activities that tend to their altruistic side. This is especially true for Gen Zs and millennials, whose proportion in the workforce is growing every day.

At Goodera, we observe Mandatory Volunteering Tuesdays—an hour every week for all employees to get together and enjoy a fun virtual volunteering session. The focus during these sessions is as much on encouraging healthy, fun conversations among employees as it is on doing something good for our communities. Free virtual volunteering events make it easy for companies to experience the benefits of volunteering in boosting employee morale.

Here are a few virtual volunteering ideas that you might want to try out.

At companies that have clearly communicated how they create value, 65% of employees say that they’re passionate about their work.

Final thoughts

As conversations around workplace engagement and experience mount, employees will look at how organizations are taking a proactive approach to tackling employee burnout. Employee-friendly workplace policies will be a major deciding factor for employees every time they look for a job change. 

Through honest, dedicated effort in addressing burnout, companies can enjoy the benefits of a happy, productive workforce—after all, the biggest assets of every business are its employees. 

Want to assess your burnout risk? You might want to take this quiz.

burnout quiz cta