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An Employer’s Guide to Employee Burnout

6 December 2017 11 min read

employee struggling with burnout

What is Employee Burnout?

Employee burnout is a situation where workers feel extremely exhausted, whether briefly or for a prolonged period. This could be physical exhaustion, mental exhaustion, emotional exhaustion, or even all three. In any case, the end result is the same: unhappy employees, a drop in productivity, and a possible rise in employee turnover.

According to a recent Gallup survey, 44% of employees have felt burnt-out at one time or another. Yet 23% of employees have felt burnt-out “more often than not”. So 67% of full-time workers have experienced it at some point in their careers. And more shocking, for nearly a quarter of employees, it is a recurring problem. This same survey showed that employees who regularly experience it are almost three times as likely to start looking for another job than other employees.

In addition, it’s on the rise with 24% of UK employees are experiencing an increase in symptoms.

There is a widespread problem and it’s a serious one. But what can you do about it?

How Employee Burnout Affects Your Bottom Line

If you don’t recognize and address the problem early, it can escalate into a serious issue for business owners and HR managers.

1. Lower Productivity and Efficiency

It’s common for employees dealing with issues to fail to deliver high-quality performance at work and meet productivity goals. Because they feel extreme forms of exhaustion, they may work much slower or less effectively than normal.

If efficiency’s down, your whole business can suffer. Your customers may soon notice lower standards of customer service or late or missing orders. This can result in a smaller profit margin for your business or a less satisfying experience for your customers. So in the long-term, burnout can damage both your reputation and your bottom line.

2. Higher Employee Turnover

Burnt-out employees may start entertaining thoughts of quitting their job. They may begin to look for work that’s less stressful, and for management that’s more supportive

As your employee turnover rates increase, you stand to lose a lot of your talent. And again, this can have a domino effect: Employees may be saddened or frustrated by the growing number of departing colleagues. They may start to dream of a fresh start themselves.

Additionally, your company’s reputation may be indirectly affected as a result of high employee turnover. The public tends to view companies with high employee turnover unfavourably. If so many of your employees leave, people may start to think that there must be something wrong within your organization.

3. Wasted Resources

Every time an employee leaves your organization, you’re going to have to invest a lot of time and money in replacing them. 50 percent of employee attrition is due to burnout, which means you could end up spending thousands to replace your former employees.

On top of this, burnt-out is less likely to get their tasks done correctly the first time. They might make more mistakes. And the more mistakes they make, the more time, energy, and resources you’ll spend fixing things.


employee struggling with burnout

Top 7 Causes of Employee Burnout

A lot of workplace factors can contribute such as excessive workloads, hectic schedules, and pressing deadlines. But unpleasant personal situations outside of the workplace can also contribute to it.

Stressors may vary from case to case, but here are some of the most common factors that trigger all the negativity associated with it.

1. Employees feel overworked

For a lot of people, burnout is synonymous with overwork. This might be how most people understand the term: You feel burnt-out when you’ve been working too hard and for too long.

When the work starts piling up, the pressure can build. Employees may be able to prioritize their tasks, but if there’s constantly far too much to do, employees may start to feel hopeless and inadequate. They might start chastising themselves that they could have done better if they had a more manageable workload. And at the same time, they may start to resent any other employees who don’t seem to be struggling so much.

2. Tasks lack variety

Do employees with repetitive jobs burn out more easily than those with more diverse roles? Some people are perfectly fine with doing the same thing, in the same way, every day. But a lot of people crave variety. They tend to get tired of always working on the same type of tasks or projects. Even if they loved their job to begin with, as the novelty wears off, their interest could wane.

3. The work environment is not employee-friendly

The work environment and the company culture can be crucial factors for employee satisfaction. A fun, positive, and supportive atmosphere can inspire employees to happily come to work every day. But on the opposite, employees might actively dread coming to work.

4. There’s too much micromanagement

Every employee has their own set of skills and competencies. Of course, you need to support them and guide them. But supervising them every step of the way can potentially do more harm than good. Micromanaging your employees can make them feel uneasy. It can also stifle their growth when they are not allowed to fend for themselves.

5. Employees aren’t happy with their compensation

When you hire your employees, you expect them to give their best. You also hope that they’ll continue working for your organization for a long time. In an ideal world, the work itself would be enough to motivate your employees to achieve their goals. But of course, if you want to attract and retain the best, you need to be generous with your compensation and benefits.

If you give your employees a compensation package that’s below industry standards, it could make them feel that you don’t value their efforts and contributions to the company.

6. A poor work-life balance

Employees need time to pursue other worthwhile activities that interest them outside of their work. A balanced lifestyle allows employees to be more productive, creative, happy, and healthy – both inside and outside the workplace.

7. Managers are distant and unfair to employees

Validation, recognition, and appreciation from managers can inspire employees a great deal. Favoritism among employees could crush their positive spirits. Once they feel that they are not getting due credit and respect from their boss, they could develop an overall dislike for company management and their colleagues.

How to Spot the Early Signs of Burnout in your Employees

You can probably imagine how it feels to be burnt-out: Drained, disengaged, dissatisfied, or disinterested at work. Burnt-out employees just don’t seem to have the energy or the motivation to perform at their best. Burnt-out employees may also call in sick more often. They may commit more errors due to their inability to stay focused. On top of this, their productivity and quality of work might start to decline

So what are the early signs? Here are some things you can look out for:

  • Employees who are usually bright, enthusiastic, and motivated appear stressed and unhappy.
  • You notice that individuals or teams are less productive than usual.
  • Employees who usually contribute to meetings are silent, sullen, or distracted.
  • There’s a rise in absenteeism, or employees start showing up late or taking longer lunch breaks.

Just remember that everyone experiences burnout differently. These are just general warning signs. Nobody understands your team or your business better than you, so you’ll probably notice when something’s wrong – so long as you pay attention!

How to Manage and Overcome Employee Burnout in Your Business

You need to create a company culture that values open and honest communication. Employees should feel safe in sharing their concerns with management, and management should be committed to championing employees’ health and wellbeing.

Meanwhile, the right technology can help you to spot the early warning signs that your employees are approaching breaking point. It can also empower employees to manage their time and the workload free from micromanagement.

Here are some strategies that will help you manage and overcome burnout in your business:

1. Less Micromanagement, More Empowerment

Nobody likes a micromanager. Nobody likes to feel like a strict manager is obsessively overseeing absolutely every aspect of their life at work. This can lead to resentment, and resentment can lead to burnout.

People dislike micromanagement because it makes them feel like you don’t trust them to do things to your exacting standards. So why not show your employees that you do trust them? With good HR tech, you can empower your employees to take control of many common tasks. And this, in turn, can lead to a host of additional benefits in the long term.

For example, you can let employees book their own leave and manage their own holiday allowance. A good system can handle leave requests in minutes, and often at the touch of a button. This might make employees more likely to book leave in the first place, which can lead to less burnout, a better work/life balance, and an overall happier and more productive workforce.

Similarly, good HR tech can make it easier to set and maintain fair employee rotas. In this way, you can avoid overstaffing and understaffing. Nobody will feel like they have too much to do, and nobody will be burdened with unfairly large workloads. The result? More productivity and better relationships among individuals and teams.

2. Create a More Supportive Company Culture

If you invest in good HR tech to reduce micromanagement and empower your employees, your HR department won’t have to spend so much time replying to emails and scrutinizing spreadsheets. Instead, they can focus their efforts on creating a company culture that values open discussion while championing employee wellbeing and positive employee relations.

How many instances of staff burnout are the result of employees feeling like they must suffer in silence? Whether they have problems at home or in the workplace, you’re in a great position to offer them whatever support they might need.

It’s all about optimizing the employee experience – ensuring that every aspect of the employee’s time at work is optimized to support their mental and physical wellbeing.

3. Introduce Better Employee Benefits and Compensation

Employee benefits are great for morale, and they’re crucial if you want to attract and retain the talent your business needs to succeed.

As we said above, if your compensation package is below industry standards, it could make your employees feel that you don’t value their efforts and contributions to the company.

But that said, it’s not enough to simply offer your employees the sort of benefits that you think they might like. Not everyone wants a pool table in the staff room, for example. If you really want to address employee burnout, you need to offer the sort of compensation and benefits that will really strike a chord.

4. Invest in data and champion early intervention

With some employees, it might be obvious that they’re approaching breaking point: They might appear more stressed, distracted, or unhappy than usual. But other employees might be better at hiding things. Everything might appear to be fine on the surface. Yet inside, they might be suffering.

HR tech can help you spot the early signs that something might not be quite right with an employee. An absence management system can give you access to key absence data. This can enable you to spot certain patterns.

For example, you might notice that an employee is missing more days of work than you’d expect them to. With this information to hand, you can talk to the employee, and offer to support them in any way you can. In this way, you might be able to deal with any small issues long before they have a chance to spiral into huge problems.

A centralized online system will also provide you with crucial data and alerts on employees that aren’t using holiday entitlement. Absence matters and using data and technology to encourage annual leave will help employees take well-needed breaks to reduce the risks.

How to Address the Challenges with Employee Burnout

Employers are unanimous in acknowledging that burnout is a pressing issue that needs to be resolved. And yet, there’s still a disconnect when companies ignore just how big a role they play in allowing this problem to blow out of proportion.

In other words, this isn’t a question of your employees’ failure to deal with their physical or psychological issues. Instead, employee burnout is more of an organizational concern. It’s not your employees’ problem. It’s your problem.

Companies, therefore, need to evaluate what exactly is causing employees to feel frustrated or stressed at work. This is where intelligence and reporting on employee absence can help.

Whether it’s the amount of workload, salary, management style, or overall atmosphere in the workplace, HR needs to flesh out all these issues with the concerned departments and the affected employees to help them avoid the undesirable impact of burnout across the organization.

absence risk profile

Katrina Bennett People Director at edays
December 6, 2017

Katrina is edays' own People Director with significant UK and international experience in delivering people strategy and value-adding HR solutions across a range of organisations and sectors (including Arriva, Boots, Rolls Royce, the utility and charity sectors). Katrina has over 20 years of experience in Human Resources and is CIPD qualified.