In addition to hiring the best fit employees, maintaining a productive and engaged workforce has always been crucial to any organization’s success. One of the significant challenges faced by employers is preventing employee burnout. Employee burnout is a pervasive issue that can lead to decreased productivity and increased employee turnover rates. Employee burnout can have a negative impact on individual employees and the overall workplace environment. According to Gallup’s State of the Global Workplace: 2023 Report as many as 28% of employees say they experience burnout often or very often. As an employer, recognizing the signs of burnout and implementing strategies to prevent burnout is essential to fostering a healthy and resilient workforce.
Understanding Employee Burnout
Employee burnout can be defined as a state of physical, emotional, and mental exhaustion caused by chronic workplace stress that is not well addressed by management (World Health Organization). It is characterized by feelings of detachment, cynicism, and reduced accomplishment (Bakker, et al., 2023). Burnout is not just a result of employees working long hours. Burnout is often rooted in a combination of excessive workload, lack of control over tasks, unclear expectations, feeling treated unfairly, time pressure, and insufficient communication and/or support from management. While research has shown that individual factors, including personality characteristics and emotional resources, are related to burnout (Bakker, et al., 2023,) this post will primarily focus on contributing factors outside of the individual.
Indications of Employee Burnout:
1. Decreased Performance: Employees experiencing burnout often show a decline in their performance levels. Tasks that were once completed with enthusiasm may now be met with apathy and reduced attention to detail or poor quality-control.
2. Increased Absenteeism: Burnout can lead to physical and mental health issues, causing employees to take more sick days or time off to cope with the stress.
3. Negative Attitude: Burnout can foster a negative attitude towards work, colleagues, and the organization itself. Employees might become cynical, disengaged, and display a lack of enthusiasm for their job and/or for the company’s goals.
4. Physical and Emotional Exhaustion: Feelings of fatigue, irritability, and emotional exhaustion are common signs of burnout. Employees may struggle to manage their emotions, leading to conflicts and strained relationships in the workplace. Negative emotions can spill over into the home environment.
5. Lack of Concentration: Burnout can hamper an employee’s ability to focus and concentrate, making it challenging to complete tasks efficiently and effectively.
Case Study: Addressing Burnout in a Healthcare Setting
Meet Sarah, a dedicated nurse working in a busy hospital. Sarah has been showing signs of burnout recently. Her once excellent patient care has been slipping, and she appears increasingly disengaged during team meetings. She no longer contributes ideas about how to improve patient care. Managers notice her taking more sick days than usual, requiring colleagues to cover her shifts. Sarah is noted to be struggling to maintain her previously positive attitude.
Management’s Remediation Approach:
1. Initiate a Conversation: Sarah’s immediate supervisor, Lisa, schedules a private meeting to discuss Sarah’s well-being. During this conversation, Lisa acknowledges Sarah’s dedication and excellent patient care and expresses concern (not blame) about the observed changes in Sarah’s behavior.
2. Identify Stressors: Lisa and Sarah work together to identify the specific stressors contributing to Sarah’s burnout. They recognize that long shifts, a high patient load, and limited opportunities for breaks are some of the key factors.
3. Implement Supportive Measures: Upon Lisa’s recommendation, management implements a few immediate changes to alleviate Sarah’s stress. Management adjusts Sarah’s schedule to ensure more manageable shifts, allowing for adequate rest between shifts, and a more regular schedule for her shifts. An effort is made to recruit more nurses in Sarah’s area of the hospital to reduce the workload on all nurses.
4. Training and Skill Development: Recognizing that medical professionals often face emotionally challenging situations, management also arranges workshops on stress management, emotional resilience, and effective coping strategies. All employees are encouraged to attend as often as possible.
5. Peer Support: Sarah is connected with a mentor, Emily, an experienced nurse who offers guidance and a listening ear. The management also organizes regular support group sessions where healthcare workers can share their experiences and learn from one another.
6. Recognition and Appreciation: The nurse managers introduce an employee recognition program to acknowledge and celebrate the efforts of healthcare professionals like Sarah. Regular appreciation for specific contributions to the healthcare team boosts her morale and sense of accomplishment.
7. Wellness Initiatives: The hospital offers staff wellness programs such as yoga sessions, mindfulness workshops, and access to mental health resources to support employees’ overall well-being.
Understanding what employee burnout is and what the signs are is important to being able to prevent and address employee burnout. Addressing employee burnout is a proactive step that demonstrates an employer’s commitment to the well-being of their workforce. By taking a personalized approach, implementing supportive measures, and fostering a culture of well-being, employers can create an environment where employees can thrive. When employees thrive, there is good employee retention, more employee engagement, and a higher quality work product.
Bakker, A. B., Demerouti, E., & Sanz-Vergel, A. (2023). Job demands–resources theory: Ten years later. Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior, 10, 25–53. https://doi.org/10.1146/annurev-orgpsych-120920-053933
Written by Lisa J Meier with support from ChatGPT