What is burnout?
Before diving into how to battle burnout, it’s crucial to fully grasp what this condition is. Burnout is a type of work-related stress that stems from prolonged, extreme stress at work. After experiencing this intense stress for an extended period, employees may find themselves physically, mentally and emotionally exhausted.
Burnout is a serious condition that impacts both employees and employers. The condition can lead to poor performance at work, decreased productivity, inter-workplace conflict and mental health issues.
Burnout during the pandemic
Burnout at work is a common and widespread condition. However, it has seemed to multiply during the COVID-19 pandemic, resulting in the phrase “pandemic burnout.” This is when burnout stems from the working conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Pandemic burnout isn’t something many experts predicted. In fact, many employers were concerned their employees would be less productive in the transition to remote work. Instead, the opposite happened. Due to pandemic restrictions, remote employees with nothing else to do often found themselves turning to longer work hours. And things were no better for employees who stayed on-site to work. These workers typically found themselves overloaded as a result of staff shortages stemming from people quitting out of a refusal to work in person. Of course, long hours and increasing expectations from employers are a recipe for burnout.
It’s clear that pandemic burnout is here and impacting a significant portion of the workforce. The American Psychological Association’s 2021 Work and Well-Being Survey found that almost three in five employees reported negative impacts of work-related stress, with effects ranging from lack of interest, energy and motivation (26%) to lack of effort at work (19%).
5 tips to help employees with pandemic burnout
There is no one-size-fits-all solution for dealing with burnout, but here are five tips every employer can follow to try to alleviate some of the pressure their employees are dealing with:
1. Create a safe space
It’s important to catch burnout and address it before the employee feels like their only option is to quit. Managers should be on the lookout for signs of burnout. Some common symptoms of burnout include the following:
- Exhaustion or constant fatigue
- A cynical or negative attitude
- Frequent illnesses
- Reduced productivity
- Loss of interest in the job
When managers notice these signs, they should be encouraged to approach their employees and have a candid conversation. The discussion should come from a place of concern and care, not judgment. Managers should encourage employees to share their feelings and listen to what they have to say. Once the problems have been outlined, managers can offer to help in whatever way is needed. Solutions might include lessening an employee’s workload, giving an employee more resources or extending project deadlines.
2. Encourage relaxation
A primary cause of burnout is when individuals work too hard and don’t take breaks to recharge. Employers may not be able to force an employee to relax, but they can make an effort to encourage regular breaks.
Employers should also have their HR departments review vacation days near the end of each year. If employees have taken few or no vacation days, the HR team can reach out to them and ask that they plan to take their allotted days before the year is over. This helps employees feel like they have the permission and encouragement to take the time off they deserve.
Additionally, upper management can set a policy of only working during work hours. If a company typically operates 9–5, managers can tell employees to avoid sending emails, responding to messages or working before or after these hours. They can also remind everyone that work shouldn’t be done on holidays or weekends. Managers can lead by example by never emailing or messaging outside of working hours.
Taking these small steps to encourage relaxation can make a huge difference to employees who need to be reminded to stop overworking.
3. Provide professional help
Burnout is a mental health condition that sometimes requires professional help. Employers should consider adding coverage to their benefits package for therapists or counselors. Businesses can send out a notice to all employees of this addition and encourage anyone who is in need to take advantage of this benefit. A professional can then help an employee identify the cause of the burnout, assist them with coping and teach them how to set boundaries to prevent escalation.
4. Reevaluate workloads
Pandemic burnout results primarily from people being given increasingly larger workloads. Employers should take the time to reevaluate the amount of work employees have and determine whether those employees need additional resources, such as extra people on their team.
Adding more staff, tools or resources does come with added costs, but for most organizations, this is an investment worth making. It will keep your employees happier, help increase retention and improve productivity.
5. Encourage people’s right to say no
The last suggestion is to foster a culture where employees feel they can safely say no. Employees should be told they can say no to other workers or management when their workload is becoming too heavy. There should be no penalization for an employee who wants to set boundaries, as long as those boundaries are reasonable.
Don’t turn a blind eye to pandemic burnout
Ignoring pandemic burnout isn’t an option. The Great Resignation is still in full swing, and employers who don’t prioritize their employees’ health and wellness can expect to see high turnover. Caring for your workforce is a part of running a successful, well-functioning business. Employees that aren’t burnt out will be more productive, collaborative and engaged at work.