Burnout can happen to anyone – managers and employees alike. It is a serious issue that impacts all aspects of life and daily functioning.
A recent study by Asana surveyed over 10,000 workers and found that nearly 63 percent of employees experience burnout. Gen Z employees have the highest risk, with 84 percent reporting burnout, followed by millennials at 74 percent. Furthermore, 40 percent of all workers believe that burnout is an inevitable part of success.
What is Burnout?
Burnout is a state of emotional, mental, and physical exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. There are three types of burnout — biological, cognitive, and organizational.
Biological burnout occurs when an individual experiences physiological and neurochemical changes due to chronic stress. Cognitive burnout arises when perceived demand outpaces perceived resources. And organizational burnout is caused by an imbalance of energy expenditure and replenishment within the organization.
In 2019, the World Health Organization officially recognized burnout as an occupational phenomenon resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.
Everyone has their personal thresholds and might experience burnout differently, which can sometimes make it difficult to pinpoint when someone is burned out. The following three dimensions characterize burnout.
1. Physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion
Individuals who are experiencing burnout are generally exhausted, particularly from work. They dread going to work and lack energy overall, which can be caused by poor sleep or decreased motivation.
2. Depersonalization or cynicism
Some individuals may harbor negative feelings and attitudes about work. They may be cynical of the customers they work with or their colleagues in general. These individuals tend to have poor attitudes toward the people who are the source of burnout.
3. Personal ineffectiveness
Feeling ineffective or incapable of completing work can be pervasive for many individuals, especially for overachievers. These individuals feel like their work is never good enough, no matter how much work they do. Often, they may think that their work has no meaning or purpose.
How is Burnout Different from Stress?
It’s essential to understand the difference between burnout and stress. Sometimes employees may not be fully aware if they are feeling burned out or stressed. But there is a significant difference between the two.
Stress is more episodic in that there is going to be a resolution. For example, you might have an upcoming deadline on a project that is causing stress. As soon as the project is complete, the stress subsides, and you go back to your baseline and resume your work.
On the other hand, burnout tends to be long-term with no end in sight. Let’s take the example above, where you have an upcoming deadline on a project. Now imagine you finish that project, and there is another project waiting with a tighter deadline; you have multiple meetings to prepare for and attend, and you need to have a difficult discussion with a coworker.
All these stressors continue to compound and wear on you emotionally, creating a loss of motivation and depleting your energy levels. When there is no end in sight, you continue to feel the same anger and cynicism day in and day out.
Managing and Preventing Employee Burnout
Effectively managing and preventing burnout requires a long-term commitment to building and sustaining strategies that impact individuals, teams, and the organization. Leaders and managers must be willing to devote the time, energy and resources to effectuate change.
Take an organizational pulse
Getting feedback from your people is the best way to understand the prevalence of burnout in your organization. Pulse surveys are a great way to solicit input and offer employees an opportunity to provide their ideas on how to mitigate burnout so that your organization realizes the solutions it will need to invest in to make an impact. Your mental health solutions provider can help you develop a pulse survey, review the results and offer
It’s easy for humans to fall into judgment when noticing that people’s attitudes are changing and stress levels are increasing. We are currently seeing this with quiet quitting and the Great Resignation. We are quick to judge these individuals as lazy or disloyal, which creates an environment of shame.
Instead, organizational leaders and people managers need to get curious and understand the real reason why people are burned out, resigning or only performing up to what their role requires. Developing an attitude of curiosity changes the temperature and the culture that employees experience when we begin to ask questions.
The Asana study found that 51 percent of workers don’t feel comfortable talking to their managers about burnout. We have just gone through a traumatic couple of years, causing significant shifts in different areas of our lives, especially in the workplace. For many, where we work has changed, processes have changed, workloads have shifted, and how we communicate is different. These are all recipes for burnout.
Opening the lines of communication is a critical component of managing and preventing burnout. Processes or priority changes must be communicated and include why the change is necessary.
When workers feel intense pressure from their leaders and managers, every task feels like a priority. In reality, everything cannot be a priority – it’s not how priorities work. Leaders and managers must identify their priorities and communicate them clearly with their teams.
Additionally, many workers are being asked to take on more responsibilities due to staffing issues. When asking workers to pick up the workload, a great practice is putting a timeframe on the ask. Managers should communicate the plan for filling the vacant position and let the worker know they will revisit their workload in a specific timeframe (e.g., 90 days).
When leaders and managers clearly communicate with their people, it lets them know it’s okay to raise their hands and say they’re struggling.
During times of change and uncertainty, employees look to their leaders and managers for guidance. That’s why leaders should be role-modeling interventions that prevent burnout. Interventions can be implemented at micro, mezzo, and macro levels. The following interventions can have a powerful impact on employees and even allow leaders to decrease their own risk for burnout.
Micro interventions include stretching for 1-2 minutes several times a day, getting up to get a glass of water, taking five deep breaths throughout the day, or aromatherapy.
Mezzo interventions can consist of taking non-working lunch breaks (yes, you don’t have to work during lunch), setting boundaries around working during the evenings or weekends, or scheduling meetings for 50 minutes instead of an hour. Scheduling 25- or 50-minute meetings as a standard gives employees time to breathe before moving on to their next task. Leaders and managers can also consider designating an agreed-upon time without interruptions or meetings (i.e., Friday afternoons from 1-3 p.m.).
A macro intervention could be taking a vacation and not working (this is challenging for many workers). This is an excellent way for employees to recharge their batteries. Encourage them to turn off syncing to their email on their phone and ditch the laptop.
Addressing employee burnout is key to maintaining a healthy, productive workplace. These strategies can go a long way in mitigating the risk of burnout and creating a workplace culture that cultivates positive morale, employee engagement, and retention.
To learn more about how you can combat and prevent burnout, contact BHS today.
Want to dig deeper? Watch our Symposium Series webinar on Managing and Preventing Burnout During the Great Resignation.