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Employee Burnout is Real...Here's How to Overcome It

September 30, 2019

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Employee burnout is a phenomenon that, unfortunately, affects many individuals. It was first coined in the 1970s by American psychologist, Herbert Freudenberer, to describe the consequences of severe stress and high ideals in helping professions. Although burnout is seen at a higher rate in helping professions, with physicians, nurses, and social workers ranking at the top, it can occur in any field of work. A recent study by Gallup of nearly 7,500 full-time employees found that 23% of employees reported feeling burned out at work very often or always, while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes. That’s approximately two-thirds of full-time workers who are experiencing burnout on the job. 

Burnout is an individual’s response to chronic emotional and interpersonal stressors within the workplace1

There are multiple effects of employee burnout. Not only does burnout affect employee performance, but it impacts the performance of the team and work environments, hindering the overall success for the organization. Even more alarming, it’s reported that burned out employees are 2.6 times as likely to leave their current employer. 

These effects and signs of burnout may not be obvious, but here are four common signs that you may have a burned-out workforce: 

SIGN #1: Low Engagement

Employees are disengaged from their work and job tasks. You notice that your typically dependable and engaged employee suddenly is producing poor work. There’s an increase in frequent use of social media, personal email, checking personal devices, or lack of enthusiasm for work, which can be signs of an employee’s impending burnout.  

SIGN #2: Recurring Mistakes and Delays

There is an increase in reoccurring mistakes or unfinished tasks. This could mean that your employees are experiencing burnout, whether they are being overworked or not, given adequate resources or experiencing some of the mental, emotional, or physical symptoms that are hindering the abilities of an individual who typically has high attention to detailed.  

SIGN #3: Recurring Absenteeism

Employees who are at the edge of burning out experience some form of mental, emotional, or physical symptoms, which can increase their likelihood to take a sick day to recover from those symptoms. Additionally, some may take a day off because they are entirely demotivated by their job or having to deal with their peers or supervisors.  

SIGN #4: Cynicism

There seems to always be that one Negative Nancy in the workplace, but someone who is consistently negative and whose complaints have increased could indicate that an employee is on the verge of or is currently experiencing burnout effects. This type of bad attitude can come on rapidly and could quickly create overall bad moral within the organization.  

Good news! Burnout is fixable, and organizations have many strategies they can use to help avoid burnout. 

  • Make sure your employees are not overloaded with work. Have managers check in with their teams to evaluate employees' tasks, what their time is being spent on, and then evaluate and identify a solution for those who need to balance their work.  

  • Ensure your employees have the resources they need. Reach out to employees to understand how to make the work flow easier for them. 

  • Help employees understand how their value and work contribute to the organization's goals and solicit their input and ideas.  

  • Enforcreasonable work hours and encourage employees to create balance in their life by taking breaks away from the work environment.  

  • Encourage employees to participate in office wellness activities. If you don’t have a wellness program, consider creating one, such as offering healthy snacks in the office, gym passes, and ergonomic desks and workstations.  

  • Educate your employees by providing information about burnout and how employees can prevent it.  

  • Show your appreciation of their work. Acknowledge, reward, and promote employees' contributions to the company.  

Anyone is vulnerable to workplace burnout. It’s important to note that burned out employees are not lazy or bad employees who don’t care about their jobs.  Recognizing the signs of burnout and providing support can help the workplace create a positive, productive, and engaging environment.  

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Works cited:

1Maslach, C., Schaufeli, W.B. and Leiter, M.P. (2001), “Job burnout,” Annual Review of Psychology, Vol. 52 No. 1, pp. 397-422. 

Jessica Petor Jessica Petor is a Research Analyst located at PSI's Pittsburgh office. She holds a Master's of Science degree in Industrial Organizational Psychology from Northern Kentucky University.