Burnout at work isn’t only unhealthy for your teams, it’s a plague on your organization’s culture, experience, retention, and ultimate business results.
A recent survey by UKG discovered that burnout and fatigue are equally concerning for employees working remotely and those in a physical workplace both at 43%. Overall, 59% of employees and business leaders say their organization has taken at least some measures to guard against burnout, though 29% of employees wish organizations would act with more empathy.
Often, employers and employees can agree that this data about widespread burnout is real. Where things get dicey is in a.) accepting that this burnout is present at your workplace and b.) what to do about it. Employers tend to feel stuck when it comes to wellbeing offerings, unsure of where to invest, which options will be right for their people, and how to manage flexibility and responsibility. The overwhelming narrative of work has been “hustle at all costs” for decades, so a wellbeing-focused landscape requires employers to totally rethink their mindset and model for getting work done, not just revisit policies or traditional health benefits.
However big this mindset shift is for leaders, it’s a necessary transformation right now. With predictions of a costly post-pandemic “turnover tsunami” and more than 40 percent of the global workforce thinking about leaving their employer this year, catchily referred to as “The Great Resignation,” now is the time to address the risk of burnout on your teams head-on. The share of workers who left their jobs in April was 2.7%, marking the highest “quits rate” since the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics began keeping records
The good news is there are proven strategies leaders can put in place immediately to help avoid burnout in their organizations.
Getting to the Bottom of Burnout
The first step to burnout prevention is understanding exactly what it is. The World Health Organization identifies burnout as an “occupational phenomenon,” a syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by...
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job
- Feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job
- Reduced professional efficacy
When executives and managers ignore job burnout, it can have significant consequences for team members, according to the Mayo Clinic, including:
- Excessive stress
- Sadness, anger or irritability
- Alcohol or substance misuse
- Heart disease
- High blood pressure
- Type 2 diabetes
- Vulnerability to illnesses
Signs that your team may be on the verge of burnout, or are already maxed out, include:
- Employees voicing concerns about being stressed, overwhelmed or under pressure
- Unexplained absences or complaints about stress-induced ailments, such as headaches or upset stomach
- Managers expressing concerns that their teams are facing unmanageable workloads
- Increases in errors or bad judgments on the job
Dousing Burnout: Actionable Ideas for Team Leaders
Effective strategies for reducing burnout start with understanding a basic truth of all humans – none of us are exactly alike, and we all need options. Offering multiple modes of relief from burnout is key for people to choose what works best for them. The next step lies in mapping actionable steps empathetic leaders can take to promote employee wellbeing and prevent burnout:
- Implement training to help your managers recognize the signs of team member burnout before it escalates.
- Ask yourself, are the workloads assigned to individuals and teams realistic? Do your employees have the skills and support they need to be successful?
- To encourage better life load management, life load being what's on our plate as humans from both work and personal life, adopt flexible scheduling, telecommuting, and paid time off where possible for your teams.
- Include an employee assistance program in your organization’s benefits package so team members can access support across areas that may be causing them stress.
- Create boundary plans that empower employees to set limits for themselves, including things like when they will be checking email or available outside their set hours.
Why Is Empathy Important When We Talk About Burnout?
Empathetic leaders understand the needs of others and are aware of their feelings and thoughts. To lead with empathy and identify burnout in others, you must put aside your own viewpoints and see things from the other person's perspective. The benefits are far-reaching. Empathy better enables you as a leader to resolve conflicts, build more productive teams and improve your relationships with co-workers, clients, and customers.
Empathy in the workplace is directly related to job performance, according to research by the Center for Creative Leadership. Leaders who practice empathy are viewed as better at their job by their peers and teams.
Empathy should be evident at every level of your organization. It lays a solid foundation for intentional wellbeing and lower rates of burnout. Leaders can encourage a more empathetic workplace in a number of ways:
- Communicate the value of empathy by talking about it. Emphasize to managers that empathy matters. Research shows that understanding, caring for, and developing others is important, especially in today’s evolving workforce.
- Teach listening skills. Focus on listening closely to hear the meaning of what team members are saying. Managers need to pay attention not only to the words spoken but also to the feelings expressed through nonverbal cues, such as tone of voice, pace of speech, facial expressions, and gestures.
- Encourage managers to seek the other person’s perspective and experience. Managers must always consider where the other person is coming from. This includes taking into account the personal experiences or perspectives of their employees.
- Foster compassion. Support managers who care about how others feel and consider the effects their business decisions have on employees, customers, and communities. Allow time for compassionate reflection and response, and publicly celebrate these behaviors we want to see more of.
How to Lead with Empathy and Prevent Burnout
As a leader, there are many methods and strategies you can implement to address employee burnout. The first step is learning how to mitigate burnout within your organization. Here are four steps to take:
1. If you see someone struggling, reach out.
If you spot the signs of burnout in an employee, meet with them privately. Explain your concerns about what you’re seeing, and ask them candidly and compassionately if they feel unmotivated or overwhelmed. Give them time to pause and gather their thoughts. Then encourage them to be open about what they’re experiencing. Listen intently, and tell them you’re here to help. If burnout is an issue, work with the employee toward a solution, such as time off, assistance on a project, or even moving them to a new team or department.
2. Survey your employees to gauge how they’re feeling.
Some people bottle up symptoms of burnout so that you’re not even aware it’s happening. To get a true pulse on how your employees are feeling, send out an anonymous survey. Ask questions like, “How do you feel you are doing at your job?” or “What could help you feel better on the job?” and “Are you experiencing a positive work/life integration?” If many surveys come back indicating burnout, it’s time to look at company policies and start making changes.
3. Step back and consider your management style.
Take and deep breath and consider that it’s possible your management style is contributing to employee burnout. Do you show favoritism to certain employees, even unintentionally? Are you assigning tasks well before current tasks are completed? Do you contact employees after hours or ask them to stay late frequently? If so, consider making changes to your management style.
4. Set an example of good mental health.
It’s easy to fall into the trap of encouraging one behavior and modeling another. If you don’t take advantage of wellbeing benefits, your team may not feel empowered to do so, either. Set a good example by taking “breather” breaks or pauses during the day and unplugging after hours. When out of the office – especially on vacation - stay away from office communications. Sending a handful of “check-in” messages, however innocent, says to employees that this semi-plugged-in approach is something you value, and they will be more likely to stay “on” in their "off" time as well.
We’re Here to Help
At livingHR, we believe in considering the many “levers” that need to be pulled for whole-person wellbeing - that means fulfilling belonging, foundational, purposeful, physical, and emotional needs. Organizations can't always max out all of these levers, so we work to understand what's most important to your people and strike the right human-first balance.
livingHR’s transformational full-suite wellbeing solution, WellbeingWx, is designed to actively prevent burnout and support whole-person wellbeing in your workplace. Designed for all audiences within an organization, from leaders to employees to the people function, WellbeingWx completely transforms the approach to wellbeing at work. Taking a proactive approach to wellbeing, we address what you can do while removing stigmas, preventing burnout, and effectively planning for workload capacity across teams. Learn more.