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How to Mitigate the Employee Burnout Epidemic

Burnout was one of the main drivers of The Great Resignation. But just as the reasons for burnout are varied, so are the solutions for addressing it.

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It’s all over the news: 2021 has been the year of massive resignations. While many factors have gone into this resignation wave, the highest quit rate is among disengaged employees. Addressing the cause of this disengagement is the first step towards stemming the tide of resignations.

Over the past 18 months, the COVID-19 pandemic began to change peoples’ mindset about how and where they want to work. Research by DDI showed that burnout is also a key factor: “The pandemic has impacted everyone and a lot of people are struggling since they’re being pulled in so many different directions to take on constantly changing objectives, markets, and strategies.”

According to Visier’s The Burnout Epidemic Report 2021, which is a survey of 1000 full-time employees across the U.S., 89% of these employees have experienced burnout over the past year. How does this impact both their ability to work and their job satisfaction? 

What is burnout and how does it show up in employees? 

According to the Mayo Clinic, burnout can manifest as anything from cynicism and unwillingness to show up to or be productive at work to abuse of alcohol or drugs to cope. If someone starts to hate a job that they used to enjoy or argues with coworkers more than expected, it might be a symptom of  burnout. 

Job burnout can even lead to physical symptoms such as headaches, problems with sleeping, or unexplained stomach aches. Left unchecked, it can lead to more serious health issues.

Individuals suffering burnout can take a few proactive steps to reduce their stress and improve their overall well-being such as getting better exercise, learning meditation or mindfulness activities, or doing what they can to improve their sleep. Reaching out to others at work can also ease the feelings of isolation from remote work, which may be contributing to emotional burnout. But these just address some of the symptoms. If many people at an organization are suffering the effects of burnout, employers will have to be proactive about addressing the root cause.

Causes of employee burnout

To enable employees to feel happy and healthy, it’s helpful for leaders to also recognize the main symptoms of burnout, then determine the best ways to mitigate these causes before they become serious issues.

A recent Visier survey revealed that burnout can be fueled by:

  • Being asked to take on more work 

  • A toxic workplace culture 

  • Being asked to complete work faster 

Finding out why people are feeling burned out is the first step towards alleviating systemic problems before they get worse. Once leaders know why their people are burning out, interventions might include increased development opportunities, improvements in working conditions, opportunities for more employee engagement in special projects, and if appropriate and relevant, compensation adjustments. 

Three steps to help your employees with burnout

The bottom line is that burnout interventions should be based on objective, concrete and organization-specific data. What worked for other companies may not work for your unique employees and workforce. Here are three steps to take:

1. Trust data, not wishful thinking

Study after study shows that leaders at the very top can be overly-optimistic, which possibly includes the rate of burnout within their organization. This is because leaders typically enjoy a greater sense of control over their work processes—an antidote to burnout. To gain a clear picture of employee sentiment, organizations need to capture the right signals. 

Analysis of resignations, employee cases, pulse surveys and absence data can paint a fact-based picture of employee burnout. Linking this to business results like revenue and customer satisfaction helps leaders understand the significance of the issue and the reason why investments are required to reduce burnout.

2. Look for troublespots

Work-related stressors will affect people differently depending on their individual situation. Look at your data to determine patterns among specific demographics, such as whether there is a link between gender, remote working arrangements, and the perception of employee performance. Or whether there is a difference between employees with less tenure vs those who are longer tenured. Are there differences by function or leader, etc? All this allows you to identify the employee segments where the right actions will make a difference. You cannot solve burnout for everyone, the same way, at the same time,

3. Keep it simple

A key factor of burnout is a sense of being overwhelmed by demands of actions or investments of time that you cannot control. Constantly feeling like you are behind or losing out are core to the experience. For this reason responses designed to alleviate the stressors which lead to burnout need to be simple. Implemented one by one. It is also key to put the employee at the heart of the process. Give them control over how they reduce their stress and re-build their resilience. 

Putting out the burn

Research has shown that while the effects of burnout are felt on an individual level, its cause is at an organizational level. Without taking a hard look at the data, your first sign of an epidemic of burnout among your staff might be a spike in resignations. Test, learn, iterate, and respond should be the core tenets of every strategy related to burnout.

With burnout, the best cure is prevention. Proactively address the problem by regularly analyzing the data about your team to uncover warning signs so you can act before the burn begins. 

To learn more about the state of the burnout epidemic, including why employees aren’t comfortable talking to their manager about burnout and how to use people analytics to address employee burnout, download the report today. 

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