What is employee burnout?
Employee burnout is when employees become exhausted, frustrated, disengaged and unmotivated at work. It often occurs when a person is both physically and mentally drained, which causes employees an inability to work as productively as they normally would. In 2019, job-related burnout was officially recognized as a mental health concern by the World Health Organization (WHO).
According to the WHO’s eleventh revision of its International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) diagnosis guidelines, employee burnout signs include:
- Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion
- Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job
- A sense of ineffectiveness and lack of accomplishment
Common causes of employee burnout
Employee burnout has many causes and can happen to employees regardless of age or experience level. Common reasons for employee burnout include overworking, unrealistic expectations or goals, lack of clarity or communication regarding role responsibilities and unfair or biased treatment while at work.
Burnout often happens when employees with a history of performing well are given additional responsibilities or asked to complete their tasks in less time. Although the employee tries their best to perform well under these new conditions, pressure from their supervisor or pressure they place on themselves can cause mental stress.
Other employees experience burnout if they do the same job for too long without being given any opportunities to grow their career. Additionally, professionals who create for a living (e.g., writers, graphic designers) sometimes run into mental blocks that prevent them from generating new work.
Other issues that can cause employee burnout include:
- Unrealistic deadlines or schedules
- High-stress work environments that do not allow enough breaks
- Harsh consequences or disciplinary measures in response to failure
- Not enough praise or recognition for exceptional performance
- Lack of independence or autonomy in the workplace
- Ineffective leadership
- Lack of adequate staff to do the work
Employee burnout signs
Here are a few signs of employee burnout to keep an eye out for:
- Lack of interest or enthusiasm
- Moving slower than normal
- Disinterest in conversation
- Exhibiting a negative attitude
- Frequent tardiness or absences
- Decline in productivity
- Producing lower quality work
Noticing and taking steps to mitigate employee burnout is an important practice for businesses. Burnout can happen to anyone, including supervisors and those in upper management. Employers who ignore burnout often encounter unusually high job dissatisfaction and employee turnover rates.
You may also find that employee burnout can cause long-term losses. Burned-out employees are more likely to take PTO and call in sick during busy workweeks. They’re also often looking for other jobs and may resign with little to no notice. That means learning to handle employee burnout effectively can save you time, money and mental strain.
Related: How to Increase Employee Engagement
6 ways to manage employee burnout
There are many methods and strategies you can implement to address employee burnout. The first step in overcoming burnout is learning how to mitigate it within your organization. Here are six steps to take to effectively manage employee burnout at your company:
1. Reach out to those who are struggling
If you suspect an employee may be experiencing burnout, the first step is to request a one-on-one meeting. In a private conference, share your concerns and ask them if they’re feeling unmotivated or overwhelmed. Encourage them to be honest. Even if they’re not yet burned-out, talking over common employee burnout signs with a manager can help them self-evaluate and prevent any issues that may come up.
Once you’ve established a rapport, you can work together to find a solution to the problem. Possible solutions to employee burnout include giving them time off, reassigning one of their projects to someone else or moving them to a different team or department.
2. Send an employee satisfaction survey
Employee burnout isn’t always obvious. To take a pulse on how your employees are feeling, try sending out an anonymous employee satisfaction survey. By asking questions like “How do you feel about your job overall?” and “Do you have everything you need to do your job well?” you can find out if employees are feeling burned out and take steps to mitigate it.
3. Distribute workloads carefully
Another way to prevent employee burnout is to be thoughtful about how you distribute tasks and assignments. Giving a single employee or team more projects or tasks than they can complete before deadlines can cause frustration and unnecessary stress.
Check-in regularly with your team members to find out how they’re handling their current schedule. If anyone is overwhelmed, consider reassigning a task to another employee or offer to help them handle it yourself. Treating your team with respect and consideration can go a long way toward preventing burnout.
4. Assess your management style
Managers can sometimes unintentionally contribute to burnout by using a management style that causes employees stress or frustration. If you notice symptoms of burnout among your team, take time to consider your management tactics and compare them to the behavior of other managers in your organization.
For example, if you frequently contact team members outside of work hours, assign tasks before the previous ones are finished or show bias to certain employees (even if it’s unconscious bias), consider making adjustments to your management style.
5. Provide workplace variety
If an employee excels at a particular task, you may be tempted to assign them the same task all the time. However, doing the same thing at work for long periods of time can negatively affect an employee’s energy levels and enthusiasm. Instead, try giving your employees opportunities to work on a variety of tasks whenever possible.
Create a rotating schedule or assignment sheet so that no one has to handle the same problems or address the same issues for months in a row. Ideally, by listening to your team’s feedback, you’ll be able to assign tasks that they excel at and enjoy.
6. Take mental health seriously
The final step in mitigating employee burnout is to make prioritizing mental health a part of your team’s culture. Reach out to your human resources department and find out if your organization has a mental health policy. Read over it carefully and determine whether you need to make any additional provisions for your team.
Many companies allow employees to take mental health days to allow themselves time to rest and recuperate from workplace stress. Others provide insurance coverage for visits to a mental health professional or access to meditation and mindfulness apps. By cultivating a culture that supports mental health, you can promote long-term satisfaction and productivity within your team.
*Indeed survey, n=12,168