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Burnout: It's Killing Your Workforce

(posted: May 20th, 2022)

How Leaders Can Reduce Burnout and Keep Their Employees

The Great Resignation by the numbers:

A whopping 19 million workers quit their jobs between March 2021 and July 2021, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Over 40% of employees are likely to leave their current jobs in the next three to six months (McKinsey).

And all of these numbers are likely to have risen since the start of 2022.

Burnout is a major contributor to this unprecedented exodus - employees are tired, workplace pressures are overwhelming, and they are looking for connection and purpose in their work. Our always-on availability has destroyed the boundary between where work ends and the rest of life starts.

  • Burnout makes people 2.6x more likely to leave their current employer.
  • 40% of people who changed jobs in 2021 listed burnout as the reason for leaving. (HR Executive)
  • Burnout is estimated to cost the US economy more than $350 million each year in turnover, sickness, reduced productivity, and low morale. (Harvard)
  • Workplace stress contributes to 120,000 deaths per year. (Harvard)
  • Burned out employees are 63% more likely to take a sick day and 23% more likely to visit the emergency room. (American Psychological Association)

What is Burnout...Can't You Just Take a Vacation??

Burnout is not garden-variety exhaustion, and is generally not solved by taking time off, or getting a bonus or a raise.

Burnout is a collection of issues stemming from chronic, ongoing workplace stress. Symptoms include feeling lack of energy or exhaustion, mental distance or cynicism towards the job, and reduced efficacy.

The signs of burnout - What you might notice in yourself or others:

Exhaustion

  • Drained and emotionally exhausted
  • Feeling down, unable to cope with even simple frustrations
  • Tired, sleep disruptions
  • Physical symptoms

Cynicism

  • Find your job increasingly stressful and frustrating
  • Cynical attitude (about the organization, colleagues, the work)
  • Distanced emotionally and feeling numb about work ("I don't really care...")

Reduced Efficacy

  • Negative about tasks, find it hard to concentrate, lack creativity
  • Work suffers, mistakes aren't caught, quality of work drops

What Causes Burnout?

Now that you know what to look for, what causes burnout? While the obvious answer might seem to be overwork (e.g., "crunch" time at a video game developer, or lawyers working 12-hour days for months at a time on a major case), that is not the whole story. The stress that leads to burnout can be seemingly low level, bubbling along under the surface for a long time, slowly eating away at employee morale and loyalty.

Some of the factors that cause burnout include:

  • Lack of Leadership Involvement
    Leaders are the inspiration and influence that drives all workplace culture. If they are not modeling healthy work habits, actively building trust and psychological safety, and talking about the dangers of burnout, employees will feel any talk about wellbeing is just lip service.
  • Lack of Manger Support
    This is probably no surprise, but mangers play a huge role in whether employees flourish or burn out.
  • Unreasonable Deadlines/Time Pressure
    Some time constraints are useful, and healthy, but when deadlines are unreasonable and pressure is excessive or goes on long-term it creates an environment that leads inevitably to burnout.
  • Overwhelming Workload
    This overwhelm may be different for different people. For some it might be long hours, for others, too many administrative tasks, or perhaps lack of guidance on something complex or unfamiliar. When work feels burdensome and endless for whatever reason, people move from engaged to hopeless.
  • Poor Communication
    Employees can quickly become frustrated and exhausted from trying to figure out what their manager wants from them. Unclear expectations are a major driver of disengaged employees.
  • Lack of Resources & Support for Real Change
    Much of burnout is rooted in old beliefs about how work gets done, and in a "do more with less" mindset. Yet asking fewer people to do more is a sure shot to burnout, missed targets, and reduced revenues.
  • Values Not Aligned
    If the organization's values are just words on paper, employees will end up going elsewhere. If the leadership says one thing but does another, employees will bail out. People crave purpose in their work.

How Can Leaders Fix (and Prevent) Burnout?

Okay, let's be clear: Fixing burnout isn't going to happen overnight.

Adam Grant puts it bluntly, "Vacations and perks aren't cures for exhaustion. They're temporary bandages to stop the bleeding. The first principle of fighting burnout is to reduce demands. Stop overloading teams with stressful tasks and expecting one person to do multiple jobs."

But the good news is, much of what we've been focusing on as an antidote to The Great Resignation will also help with burnout. If you've started being thoughtful about how you treat your employees, you are already on track to mitigate burnout.

  • Make building trust a priority
  • Ask people how they are doing, really listen to their answers, and act on what you learn
  • Ensure deadlines are reasonable and time requirements match your team's capacity
  • Prioritize clear, regular communication of expectations
  • Model burnout-busting behaviors, like working reasonable hours, taking time off, and setting realistic deadlines
  • Develop realistic job descriptions and allocate resources to actually cover the work
  • Walk your values and show your people how they make a difference

Instead of just being words on a page, our values have become something we are living and practicing daily thanks to Kristi and the way she facilitates the DiSC programs.

~ Jason, Director of Learning & Development, Frank Rimerman

Burnout is a real issue in today's workplace, and it's getting worse, adding to the already large numbers of employees quitting their jobs. You, as leaders and managers, are the ones who can fix it. Actively build a culture of trust and respect for your people, give them the time and resources to do their jobs, stop the old thinking that more time worked is how employees earn their stripes, and really prioritize work / life separation.

Challenge Yourself
  • As a leader, do you model good wellness and work / life balance behaviors?
  • What mindset does your senior leadership team have around change and adaptability?
  • If you have already identified burnout issues in your organization, how are you addressing them?

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