Addressing Burnout in the Workplace

Workplace burnout has become a significant concern in recent years. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the working world’s expectations on how to prevent and address workplace burnout. The flexibility of working from home and employees reassessing their idea of a work-life balance has left employers that are unwilling to adapt, in the dust. The phenomena of the “Great Resignation,” where employees who are unhappy are willing to quit and find new careers that better fit their needs, is forcing employers to come up with creative ways to maintain talent by helping their employees feel valued, appreciated, and empowered.  

Burnout is work-related stress that creates a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that induces a sense of reduced accomplishment or loss of personal identity. Employees who are assessing whether burnout is affecting their life should ask themselves questions like, “Do I drag myself to work and have trouble getting started? Do I lack the energy to be consistently productive? Do I lack satisfaction from my achievements?” Employees who answer yes, might be experiencing job burnout. Common signs of burnout include feeling exhausted, being detached from work, unable to concentrate, self-medication, deteriorating relationships, feeling stuck, and chronic stress. It is important to address burnout as it can significantly impact daily life. The consequences of job burnout include excessive stress, fatigue, insomnia, sadness or anger, substance abuse, heart disease, and vulnerability to illnesses just to name a few. Work is essential but should not be a source of physical or mental illness to the point that it inhibits an individual from enjoying life.  

Individual self-care checks and hacks are important and can be effective when trying to combat burnout in the workplace. However, much of the change must come within the workplace environment to make a difference. Workplace indicators of burnout often occur when there is an imbalance between job demands and job resources. The six-core job demands that employers need to address to decrease the likelihood of burnout are:  

1) Lack of autonomy,  

2) High workload and work pressure,  

3) Lack of leader/colleague support,  

4) Unfairness (favoritism; arbitrary decision-making),  

5) Disconnect with values, and  

6) Lack of recognition.  

If employers are aware and focus on addressing these six key factors, it will allow a culture to build and correct any toxic work environment that may be created by high demands or lack of resources. Providing employees the ability to decide when and how to do their work offers a sense of control when work may often feel like it is controlling how an individual’s time is spent. It is important for leadership to check in with peers to determine workloads and ask where there may be a need for extra support. There can be a significant improvement in the trust and effectiveness of a business when employees feel that they have a mentor to go to in order to seek help, whether it be with work or how to handle a difficult situation. Transparency in leadership and decision making allows all employees to feel that they are aware and informed of important matters that come up in their workplace, encouraging them to become invested and responsive to changes. Clearly communicating and displaying the values of the organization better helps employees align their own views and see how and why their work may fit into the business. When values and passions are aligned between the employer and employee, work drive tends to be more focused, passionate, and effective. Finally, employers that recognize when there is a disconnect and decide to take action, show their employees how much they care about their well-being and in turn, maintain hardworking, loyal individuals that continue to benefit the business.  

Employers can address these burnout indicators starting with 10 “tiny noticeable things” that cost zero money, are quick to implement, and build positive culture changes that prevent burnout. Leadership can model:  

1) Saying thank you more consistently,  

2) Offering in-time feedback,  

3) Being clear when giving assignments,  

4) Provide constructive feedback in a learning-focused, two-way conversation,  

5) Keep people informed of changes,  

6) Keep track of and recognize small wins and successes,  

7) Create a habit of checking in on colleagues,  

8) Provide a rationale for projects, goals, and big-picture ideas,  

9) Take the time to clarify confusing information, and  

10) Prioritize “you matter” cues by calling people by their name, making eye contact, and giving your full attention.  

Once employers realize that burnout is not just an individual issue, but a systematic issue as well, it can begin addressing culture and operations with meaningful strategies that can combat the core causes of burnout. In fact, providing a supportive culture can lead to more productive and effective employees during the working hours, leading to more time spent enjoying life outside of work and overall, happier, healthier, and more valuable employees. 

If your business needs assistance with any Employment-related needs, please contact Dani Smid or one of our Employment and Labor attorneys. Special thanks to Emily Bell for her assistance and research with this blog.