Employee burnout is a common issue that shouldn’t be ignored. Research shows that it can lead to physical or mental health conditions — and adverse effects in the workplace.
It’s crucial to learn the signs of employee burnout and address them directly, especially if you don’t expect that your employees will be open with you about this topic.
Read on to learn what employee burnout is, its signs and causes, and how to address it.
What is employee burnout?
The World Health Organization (WHO) recently characterized employee burnout, describing it as an occupational phenomenon that occurs when an employee undergoes continual stress in the workplace that is not successfully managed.
There are three characteristics of burnout:
- The employee feels depleted or exhausted physically, mentally, or emotionally.
- The employee feels negative or disconnected from their work duties, job, or workplace.
- The employee demonstrates a notable reduction in productivity.
The consequences of burnout can be significant if they’re not appropriately addressed. For instance, employees with chronic burnout exhibit increased absenteeism and reduced performance. They are also more susceptible to physical and mental health issues.
What are the signs of employee burnout?
Several employee burnout signs are easily identifiable. Here are four of them:
Employees who feel burnt out often experience physical symptoms, causing them to miss work.
Chronic stress can lead to headaches, stomach issues, fatigue, and high blood pressure. It can also increase an employee’s risk of anxiety or depression.
Absenteeism increases when employees demonstrate these symptoms frequently — and without relief. The Bureau of Labor Statistics reported a 3.6% absence rate in 2022. In comparison, the average expected absence rate for businesses is 1.5%. These numbers indicate that employees could be turning to time off to manage burnout-related symptoms.
Employees who are approaching burnout may show subtle or overt personality changes. For instance, once-cheerful employees may become quiet or withdrawn. You may also notice employees with typically easygoing personalities are quick to become angry.
Irritability is common when trying to manage stress and burnout. As the ability to tolerate stress and work pressure decreases, so does the ability to handle the little things.
Negative feedback from colleagues, customers, or managers may also indicate that employees aren’t acting like themselves.
Decreased motivation and interest
Another sign of burnout is a sudden or gradual reduction in interest. The employee might seem less motivated to perform well or uninvested in their work or projects.
Reduced motivation can lead to a sense of disconnect where the employee no longer feels the energy or enthusiasm for their job. They might even appear to check out entirely.
A lack of motivation or interest is evident when an employee stops participating and engaging in meetings, one-to-one conversations, and project-based discussions.
Decline in job performance
Companies can see the impact of burnout on their bottom line. Employees who are less invested in their work due to burnout tend to make more mistakes than those who are fully engaged.
Overall productivity wanes when an employee becomes disconnected and starts missing multiple days of work.
Decision-making suffers, too, as the employee may be preoccupied with what’s bothering them or their physical or mental health issues.
This decline in job performance may ultimately lead to the employee leaving. In fact, about 42% of employees have left a job due to burnout.
What causes employee burnout?
While each employee experiences their workplace differently, there are some common root causes of burnout. Here are just a few of them:
Many employees cite their workload as one contributor to their feelings of burnout.
In one study, 56% of employees struggled with heavy workloads. This led to 38% feeling more burnt out in 2023 than in 2022.
A lack of work-life balance can also lead to signs of burnout.
Increased incidences of toxic behaviors are directly related to increased rates of employee burnout.
Toxic behaviors in the workplace range from gossip to a lack of communication between colleagues, team members, managers, and customers. If these behaviors aren’t addressed, they can lead to a negative culture that is difficult to ignore, navigate, or escape.
Employees who are the target of discrimination, favoritism, or bias will experience more significant workplace stress and become more susceptible to burnout.
Managing a group of people or a team isn’t necessarily easy. Even managers with the best intentions can contribute to employee burnout over time.
A lack of support is a common complaint of burnt-out employees. Some employees struggle with getting into contact with their managers in general.
Fortunately, support can come in many forms. For instance, managers can address an employee’s heavy workload, resolve a sticky project issue, or stand up for a worker if a customer complains.
Micromanaging occurs on the other end of the management spectrum. Rather than being absent or unavailable, a micromanager hovers. Employees who find themselves constantly defending their decisions or positions, attending frequent check-in meetings, or being expected to provide never-ending progress reports may start to bend under pressure.
Job clarity and purpose
An employee who joins a company wants to feel connected to the business’s mission, values, and goals. But, with only 20% of employees feeling connected to their workplace culture, many businesses have some work to do.
Most employees look for a sense of purpose and meaning while they are at work. They will often struggle in their performance if these roles change or become vague over time.
A persistent lack of communication also contributes to this loss of clarity, especially if deadlines or task items are changed without warning.
Employees want to be recognized when they do well, whether that’s through a private note or a public acknowledgment. Feeling appreciated goes a long way toward maintaining engagement and reducing feelings of disconnect.
Is employee burnout inevitable?
While the incidence of employee burnout varies, recent research suggests it is increasing. Almost 40% of employees report experiencing increased burnout over the last year due to taxing workloads, poor management, and a lack of resources.
While this rise is alarming, it doesn’t have to be accepted as the new norm. Companies can take specific steps to address the causes of burnout in the workplace.
How to prevent employee burnout
Every company has strengths and weaknesses. Consider how well your company currently handles the following, and take corrective action where needed:
Check-in with your employees
An effective approach to addressing burnout starts by connecting with your employees.
Check-in with your employees often. Establish a clear, consistent communication system with them during the onboarding process, ensure they know the easiest way to communicate with you, and commit to giving them timely responses.
Provide your employees with feedback that is informative, actionable, and useful. Employees who receive consistent, meaningful feedback are 80% more likely to stay engaged in their work.
Plan to meet with employees individually to review their performance, discuss job-related issues, and check in with them. Employees who don’t feel employers care about them are more likely to disengage, which is one of the symptoms of burnout.
Consider how you can gauge employee satisfaction in general. Send out surveys, set up an online suggestion box, or establish an open-door policy for addressing concerns.
What if you suspect burnout in one of your employees?
The short answer: address the issue directly.
Schedule a one-to-one meeting to talk with your employee about your concerns. Work with them to determine possible causes for their feelings and identify whether a short- or long-term solution is needed. Take immediate action to address the burnout, whether that means adjusting the employee’s workload or shortening their workday.
Above all, ensure your employee knows their value to your company as a person first and a worker second. Commit to working with them to address their situation with immediate action and frequent follow-up.
Create an inclusive culture
An inclusive culture is one where employees feel respected, supported, and appreciated. Differences in culture, background, and experiences are validated and embraced. In an inclusive workplace culture, employees feel safe to volunteer their opinions, share their thoughts, and brainstorm ideas.
One way to create and maintain an inclusive culture is to develop and implement a clear no-tolerance policy on discrimination and bias.
Identify avenues for employees to report offenses and clarify how they will be addressed. Provide opportunities for training to raise awareness and outline policy. Include resources for employees to continue developing their knowledge base.
Inclusive cultures ensure that management is consistent in their treatment of their employees. Actionable steps are taken if the policies are being violated. In addition, all employees are held accountable for their behaviors to ensure no one is suffering in silence.
Creating an inclusive, supportive culture means that toxic behaviors will not be tolerated. Nip gossip in the bud, establish clear channels for communication, and hold everyone accountable for their words and actions in the workplace.
Define a manageable workload
What is a manageable workload? While different employees may respond differently to this question, there are a few common characteristics of what’s considered “manageable”:
- Employees feel they have enough time in the day to accomplish their objectives.
- Employees feel they have the skills, tools, and resources they need to do their work.
- Employees feel they have room to adjust their schedule if their priorities shift.
- Employees feel they have leadership support.
Obtain feedback from your employees about their workload. What are their responses to the statements above?
Balance their input against the business’s mission, goals, and objectives. Determine if any steps are needed for employees to have and maintain a manageable amount of work.
Establishing proper communication in project management is important for clarifying team roles and responsibilities.
Motion’s Project Manager feature can help.
With Motion, you add the project details, and the app determines how much your team members can accomplish within the time frame. Each member is then provided with a customized schedule outlining their priorities. The workload for the project is balanced, leaving your team with the knowledge and confidence that they can achieve their objectives.
Clarify roles and responsibilities
Employees should clearly understand their purpose and connection to the company’s mission, values, and goals.
They know how their roles and responsibilities align with the company and how their performance will impact the organization.
If you haven’t already, implement a performance management system to provide employees with consistent feedback. Acknowledge their strengths and the actionable steps they should take to improve.
Effective feedback is ongoing, future-focused, and peer-related. Employees want to be kept in the loop about their performance and opportunities for continued development or promotion.
Work on establishing clear, team-based communication, too. Employees who feel connected and collaborative with their teammates will be less inclined to develop or excuse toxic behaviors.
If possible, give your employees autonomy to set their schedules and define their workloads. Give them agency to build and manage their tasks, deadlines, and meetings.
Motion’s Intelligent Calendar is the perfect way to support this autonomy. An employee can add everything to it, including task items, to-dos, meetings, and personal events, and the app builds these into the optimal daily calendar. Then, as the employee completes the items and checks them off, the app adjusts the time.
Showing your employees you are invested in them goes a long way.
Employees who feel their company cares about their health and well-being are 71% less likely to experience symptoms of burnout.
Encourage a healthy work-life balance for your employees. Ensure their workloads are manageable so they can leave on time at the end of the day and take their vacation days when they want to.
Recognize and reward employee accomplishments. Celebrate individual, team, or project completions with private or public acknowledgments. Create incentive programs based on compensation, time off, or special privileges.
Your support for employee well-being can also include a plan to address your employees’ mental, emotional, and physical health. About 92% of workers report the importance of mental health support in helping them with anxiety, stress, and other common frustrations.
Additionally, support the development of work connections and relationships.
Tessa West is a professor of psychology at New York University and the author of the book Jerks at Work. She says fostering a supportive social network is crucial: “If you’re going to stick around for a while, definitely invest some time in figuring out how to broaden your social network. A lot of the magic can happen at the team level.”
How Motion helps curb employee burnout
Understanding the signs and causes of employee burnout is one thing. It’s another thing entirely to do something about it.
Talk to your employees. Create a culture of inclusivity and support. Make employee well-being a priority, and watch productivity and engagement increase.
Use Motion to support your efforts. The Intelligent Calendar gives your employees the freedom to build schedules their way. It takes tasks, meetings, deadlines, and personal responsibilities and sorts them into a daily calendar with the employee’s priorities in mind.
Contact Motion to get started with a free 7-day trial today.