The Great Resignation that occurred during the global COVID-19 pandemic signals clearly the prevalence of burnout in the workplace. Surveys confirm what professionals can see with their own eyes: many people feel job-related burnout.
This situation places managers in a precarious position. They must take steps to prevent burnout in the workplace among employees while practicing self-care to avoid experiencing job burnout themselves.
While “job burnout” is not a medical diagnosis, business leadership professionals take it very seriously. Excessive, unrelenting stress takes a toll on employees. It can lead to issues with fatigue, insomnia, high blood pressure, and substance abuse. Burnout also has a significant negative impact on productivity and quality of work.
Defining Workplace Burnout
According to the Mayo Clinic, workplace burnout is a “special type” of work-related stress. It refers to employees reaching a state of emotional and physical exhaustion that results in feelings of reduced accomplishment and loss of identity.
Various factors contribute to burnout. The Mayo Clinic quotes research that indicates personality traits and family life are factors in who experiences burnout. Some experts believe other conditions like depression may place people at higher risk for workplace burnout.
Symptoms of job burnout vary depending on the individual. However, experiencing any of the following can indicate that a person has gone beyond job-related stress (which is inevitable) and moved into burnout (which is preventable).
- Increased cynicism and criticism. Asking “why even bother doing this?” Constant criticism of their work or the work of their co-workers.
- Disconnection. Feeling disconnected from work, increased feelings of hopelessness, and not taking satisfaction from accomplishments. People may also become disinterested in hobbies and other activities they once enjoyed outside the workplace.
- Focus and concentration. Finding difficulty concentrating on work and a general lack of motivation and interest in the workplace.
- Irritability. Frequently feeling impatient or irritable toward co-workers and clients.
- Poor sleep and health. A change in sleep patterns or frequent headaches, stomach or bowel issues that worsen rather than fade away.
- Changing good habits. Getting away from an established exercise routine, healthy diet, or time for meditation and relaxation.
Prevalence of Burnout in the Workplace
As the Great Resignation showed, burnout in the workplace has become more prevalent in recent years. While the stress caused by the global pandemic certainly increased symptoms of burnout, the “always-on” 24/7 culture created by technology is a significant and relentless driver of burnout.
Recent studies and surveys indicate how common burnout in the workplace has become. A 2021 survey by the job site Indeed found more than half of workers report experiencing burnout, up from 43 percent the year before.
A Women in the Workplace study from McKinsey and Co. and Lean In found one in three women are now considering leaving the workplace or downshifting their careers, up from one in four the year before.
Additionally, 44 percent of workers in a survey by staffing firm Robert Half reported feeling more burned out on the job today than a year ago. Almost half of those experiencing increased fatigue blamed it on a heavier workload.
What Managers Can Do to Prevent Employee Burnout
Managers play a crucial role in preventing workplace burnout. Business leadership entails recognizing the signs of burnout and its remedies. This requires that managers engage with their employees to spot burnout indicators and making necessary changes in daily individual or group routines.
The goal is making employees feel valued, which in turn creates a positive workplace culture that increases productivity and creativity. It also serves as a beacon to talented job applicants and reduces costly employee turnover.
Creating such a workplace takes a focused effort by leadership. Steps that directly address job burnout include the following:
- Frequent check-ins with employees. Conduct check-ins privately, asking open-ended questions that give employees the freedom to speak honestly.
- Recognize employee accomplishments. Celebrate employee accomplishments in a way that they prefer. Also, celebrating collective accomplishments and emphasizing the importance of collaboration.
- Manage workload. Provide more autonomy and flexibility, and set limits on off-hours and weekend communications. Continuously assess each employee’s workload, deadlines, and whether they receive the management support needed.
- Practice transparency. Communicate priorities, and explain changes in workload, strategy, and processes. Have backup plans ready to reduce stress on teams.
- Create team charters. Reduce the team stress by adopting a charter that contains clear and agreed-upon rules for conduct and communication. These rules can govern issues such as being on time, email response time, and creating non-meeting days or half days to allow time for “deep work.”
How Managers Can Help Themselves
As with any employee, managers also risk experiencing job burnout. They can better help their employees by first helping themselves by practicing self-care.
Those experiencing exhaustion should practice mini respites like short walks, naps, or special meals – whatever activity involves a feeling of self-compassion.
People can resist a creeping sense of cynicism by connecting with their local community through volunteer work or social institutions, taking a moment to share encouraging words with someone, or enjoying lunch with a colleague. Changing your schedule or asking for help can counter feelings of low productivity.
Successful leaders understand the importance of catching the symptoms of burnout early. Prioritizing their employees’ mental, emotional, and physical well-being reflects the standard of effective, ethical leadership our complex world demands.
CEOs worldwide consider fostering positive employee engagement in a rapidly changing business environment to be among their most critical challenges. The Certificate in Leadership offered through the Kelley School of Business helps motivated leaders incorporate the knowledge and skills of people-focused leadership. The program explores topics including design thinking and problem solving, influence without authority, effective negotiation and more. The Kelley School of Business offers the certificate through a five-day in-residence course at Indiana University’s Bloomington, Indiana.