Through the "Great Resignation," employees are sending a strong message that their needs aren’t being met at work. The demands and challenges of the pandemic have led people to reexamine their lives and priorities and one topic in particular comes up often: burnout.
What is employee burnout?
Burnout results “from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed,” according to the World Health Organization, which updated its definition in 2019 to classify it as an occupational phenomenon and not a medical condition. Burnout is characterized by:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
- Reduced professional efficacy
The Indeed.com Employee Burnout Report (March 2021) found that more than half (52%) of 1,000 U.S. workers surveyed were feeling burned out and 67% believe the feeling has worsened throughout the pandemic. People say they were working more hours when virtual and finding it more difficult to unplug during off-hours.
So what can be done to help employees get the balance they need?
1. Understand what causes burnout and where those factors might be part of their employees’ experience.
The Gallup 2020 report, Employee Burnout: Causes and Cures, found these top five factors that correlate most highly with employee burnout:
- Unfair treatment at work
- Unmanageable workload
- Unclear communication from managers
- Lack of manager support
- Unreasonable time pressure
3. Set expectations for leaders and managers to incorporate key behaviors into their day-to-day work:
- Check in regularly with individuals to understand their situation, listen to their needs, ask what would be helpful to them and find ways to offer support.
- Ensure a manageable workload. Be clear about priorities and let go of the urgency where it’s not needed. Eliminate unnecessary meetings and wrap up essential ones a few minutes early to ease transition to the next obligation.
- Lead with empathy, knowing that everyone may be dealing with situations they’re not talking about, from children at home to elder care or family dynamics. Acknowledge their challenges and give them flexibility to make things work for their situation.
- Show appreciation for the team’s efforts with “thank you” to all staff, an event to celebrate a milestone, or a meaningful gift (even if small) to recognize their hard work.
- Cultivate a sense of purpose. Help employees understand why their work is meaningful, connect it to the larger organization goals and illuminate the impact.
4. Make organizational changes where needed, including policies and culture, to put employees first:
- Gather feedback from employees on how they’re feeling and what they need, including ideas for improving the workplace. Have channels in place to regularly collect feedback—such as pulse surveys, email boxes, focus groups and even anonymous options for sharing input. Probe and listen for what could make the environment better and make improvements based on their input.
- Set policies based on what works for employees, such as allowing some flexibility in when and where they can work. For those in the office, redesign the workplace based on the types of engagement they need to accomplish their work and be most productive.
- Reduce meetings and establish guidelines to make them more efficient and productive (agendas, required attendees, ending early to allow for appropriate breaks). Clarify expectations that managers and employees can choose which meetings they attend and should minimize unnecessary meetings to allow more time for priority work during business hours.
- Allow for screen breaks, such as days when everyone can be off camera rather than in video conferences for hours. Be clear about on-screen expectations and have leaders communicate it’s OK for employees to choose to be off camera when they need a break.
- Provide mental health support. Acknowledge mental health needs and make it OK to discuss them by visibly promoting and discussing what the company is doing to help employees manage their needs. This might include online resources and tools, reduced or flexible hours, increased time off, employee mental health benefits and promotion of an employee assistance program.
- Encourage people to take time off that they’ve earned so they get the breaks they need, arrange appropriate back-up and set the expectation that they do not engage with work while away.
What will you do to improve your employees’ experience and help reduce burnout?
If employee burnout is company-wide, a company culture reset can help. Get a comprehensive guide with 4 key steps to help you reset your company culture (featuring 2 tools and a tip sheet) by clicking the image below.