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5 Ways to Battle Employee Burnout & Build a Better Workplace

Two in every five US employees say they’re burned out, according to a recent Future Forum survey. Among women and employees aged 18 to 29, the numbers are even higher. What is burnout and why is it on the rise? Keep reading to learn more.

The World Health Organization defines burnout as prolonged work stress that isn’t managed, leading to exhaustion and negativity. Burned-out employees disengage from their jobs, becoming less effective and productive. All told, burnout costs employers $322 billion globally in lost productivity and employee turnover.

Economic uncertainty, news of layoffs, and the ongoing pandemic have all contributed to the rise in employee burnout. Cost-cutting measures and labor shortages mean many employees are shouldering extra work. Without appropriate support from their employers, workers may battle burnout via “quiet quitting”—doing the bare minimum. Ultimately, they may look for greener pastures. Burned-out employees surveyed by Future Forum said they are three times more likely to seek a new job in the next year.

How can you battle burnout, improve employee retention, and make your company a better place to work? Here are five key actions to take.  

1. Prioritize a People-First Culture

More than two-thirds of executives say employee mental health and well-being is a top priority at their organization, but employees are much less likely to agree. While mental health and wellness benefits can be valuable support in avoiding burnout, they focus on individual employees. Instead of treating burnout as an individual problem, employers should see it as a warning sign of systemic problems, such as toxic workplace behavior, excessive workloads, or lack of autonomy.

Social wellness is one critical aspect of employee well-being that mental health programs may not address. A feeling of not belonging at work is one of the top three reasons employees quit, and 72% of workers who say no one cares about them at work report feeling burned out. Treating employees as people first, showing that managers are supportive, and encouraging connection among co-workers can all help build the sense of belonging and connection that’s key to job satisfaction.

2. Open the Lines of Communication

Listening to and acting on employees’ concerns and suggestions helps to prevent burnout in several ways. It gives workers more control of their jobs, shows that management cares about their ideas, and increases engagement with their work.

Open communication can range from casual one-on-one conversations, surveys, employee roundtables, or “stay interviews” that probe why employees stay with the company. Fostering the trust needed to elicit honest conversations may take time. Building relationships with employees and demonstrating that they can safely express their opinions will help, but acting on what you learn is essential to maintaining employees’ trust. Use the data from your employee listening sessions to develop benchmarks and create a plan for improvement. 

3. Offer Flexible Work Arrangements

The remote work genie is out of the bottle, and it’s not going back in. Although just 14% of jobs posted on LinkedIn are remote, those jobs garner 50% of all applications. But while 80% of desk workers globally desire remote work, a whopping 94% want flexible schedules.

Lack of control over how their work is done contributes to burnout for 68% of employees. Four-day workweeks or flexible hours allow employees to focus on doing their best work, not on how or when work gets done. Flexible schedules give employees more control over their work and more time to manage their personal lives, reducing stress and burnout. Schedule flexibility benefits employers, too. Employees with flexible schedules report 29% greater productivity and 53% greater focus than those without. 

4. Provide Upskilling Opportunities

Employees want to feel that their work not only makes a difference, but has a well-defined road to advancement. Nearly 75% of employees who don’t see a clear career path or don’t find their work meaningful report feeling burnout. Today’s career path may look less like a ladder and more like a lattice. Whatever form it takes, helping employees map out their futures and providing opportunities for learning and development can boost satisfaction and retention.

To guide employees in the most beneficial direction, identify their individual strengths and regularly discuss their career goals and progress. Provide learning and development experiences and the time to take advantage of them. Ensure that every employee has fair access to advancement by putting processes in place to reduce bias and support inclusion.   

4. Provide Upskilling Opportunities

You can implement all the policies above, but if your employees are overworked, your initiatives may have minimal impact. A recent survey found the number of meetings the average Microsoft Teams user attends per week has soared 153% in the last two years. For employees already scrambling to keep up, a wellness class or career development course is just one more task on an already full plate.

Nearly one-third of employees reporting burnout say working overtime, at night, or on weekends was a contributing factor. When employees don’t have time to rest and recuperate, they’re less productive and effective. If overwork is a problem at your organization, consider improving your culture by:

  • Minimizing overtime or making it optional
  • Reassessing workloads and redistributing work if necessary
  • Creating an environment where employees feel safe pushing back against excessive work
  • Having managers check in regularly to assess employees’ workloads
  • Reducing time in meetings (for example, by eliminating unnecessary meetings or shortening meetings)
  • Setting “focus days” without meetings or email
  • Encouraging collaboration to reduce burdens on individuals
  • Helping work-at-home employees set boundaries so work doesn’t spill into their personal time

The Cost of Burnout

Burnout harms both your employees and your business. The attrition, absenteeism, disengagement, and decreased productivity that accompany burnout can hinder your business growth. Becoming known for a culture of burnout could damage your brand reputation as an employer, making it harder to recruit top talent.

Promoting communication and engagement, offering flexible work options, and prioritizing mental health are all ways to prevent employee burnout. Fostering transparent relationships with employees from the start is another. A positive candidate experience with a background check starts the hiring process on the right foot by conveying the supportive environment you offer your employees.

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The resources provided here are for educational purposes only and do not constitute legal advice. We advise you to consult your own counsel if you have legal questions related to your specific practices and compliance with applicable laws.

About the Author

author karen axelton

Karen Axelton is a Southern California-based freelance writer specializing in business topics. 

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