Employee Burnout Is a Critical Workplace Challenge

How to stay safe from employee burnout?


Bell Labs of the 20th century gave the world the transistor, the fax machine, the communication satellite, the solar battery, and nine Nobel Prizes. Not to mention Claude Shannon’s theory of information, which had impact on everything digital from Voyager’s mission into deep space to the development of the Internet.

Its secret? Bell Labs gave people freedom. People were free to work on the projects they’d chosen without an immediate pay-off in sight. Workspaces were both conducive to communication and introvert-friendly, where people faced no judgement for keeping their office doors closed. In fact, Shannon was often seen juggling while riding a unicycle along the building corridors.

Claude Shannon. Credit Konrad Jacobs. CC BY-SA 2.0 DE

How to stay safe from employee burnout?

Most companies are not as awash with money as Bell Labs used to be, and a lot more pressure is applied to employees. The work overload, feeling unappreciated, the stress of being micromanaged, and other factors often lead to burnout. Such employees often quit or become quiet saboteurs, further increasing overall stress in the workplace. The vicious cycle continues.

What is work burnout?

Burnout is a condition of chronic stress, exhaustion, and inefficacy. It is attributed to prolonged experiences of high job demands and pressure levels. Burnout is more than just feeling tired or overworked. Instead, it’s a profound sense of physical, emotional, and mental fatigue. It can hinder a person’s effectiveness at work and in their personal life.

The World Health Organization identifies burnout by several critical indicators, including:

  • A sense of depleted energy or exhaustion
  • A more significant emotional distance from one’s job or the development of negative and cynical attitudes toward it
  • A decrease in professional efficacy or effectiveness

The organization does not classify burnout as a medical condition. However, you must take it seriously as it can go on to affect mental health. According to a study on healthcare workers, burnout has mental health implications.

What Causes Burnout?

Burnout is a complex phenomenon that can be influenced by various factors, such as work demands, organizational culture, social support, and individual coping strategies. It can affect people in any profession or industry, from healthcare workers and teachers to business executives and creative professionals.

According to a 2018 Gallup survey, these are the five leading causes of burnout:

Excessive time pressures: Employees who feel they have insufficient time to complete their work are more likely to suffer from burnout. According to the survey, paramedics and firefighters who have limited control over their work schedules may be at higher risk for burnout.

Inadequate communication and support from management: Managers can help prevent burnout by providing employees with emotional support and clear expectations. Employees who feel well-supported by their managers are less likely to experience burnout.

Unclear job expectations: When employees are uncertain about their roles and responsibilities, they may become exhausted from trying to figure out what is expected of them. Only 60% of workers report knowing what is expected of them, which can lead to burnout.

Overwhelming workload: When employees are faced with an unmanageable workload, they may feel helpless and stressed. Even optimistic employees can quickly become burnt out if they feel overwhelmed by their workload.

Unfair treatment: Employees who feel they are being treated unfairly at work are more likely to experience burnout. This can include favoritism, unequal pay, or mistreatment from colleagues. Those who feel that they are being mistreated are 2.3 times more likely to experience burnout.

While these are the leading causes of workplace burnout, there are other, more nuanced reasons why workers experience burnout. For example, healthcare workers may become stressed and experience burnout due to unoptimized healthcare systems and difficult patients.

The Consequences of Burnout

The consequences of burnout can be significant, both for the individual and the organization. Burnout can lead to decreased productivity, higher absenteeism, turnover rates, and increased physical and mental health risks. It can also have a ripple effect on colleagues and physical and psychological health risks leading to a hostile and disengaged atmosphere.

Kronos and Future Workplace Study

In 2017, a study by Kronos Incorporated and Future Workplace revealed that the problem of burnout exists on a massive scale, with 95% of HR specialists admitting that burnout affects staff retention. A total of 614 HR leaders managing organisations with 100 to 2,500+ employees were surveyed.

How does burnout affect workplace turnover?

  • 46% of HR leaders thought burnout causes between 20 and 50% of annual turnover
  • 10% thought burnout causes more than 50% of turnover
  • The problem was particularly pronounced in larger organisations with 2,500+ employees

What did HR leaders think the causes of burnout were?

  • Unfair pay (cited by 41% of the surveyed)
  • High workload (32%)
  • Excessive overtime working (32%)
  • Poor management (30%)
  • No alignment with the corporate strategy (29%)
  • Negative workplace culture (26%)
  • Inadequate technology (cited by 20% and is more common in larger organizations)

Most HR leaders (87%) thought that improving retention was a critical priority. Competing priorities, outdated HR tech, and the lack of executive support and organisational vision were mentioned as the biggest obstacles to reducing burnout and employee turnover. As a result, many organisations were still investing more in recruiting and training new employees rather than retaining their existing workforce.

What Are the Signs That Show You Are Experiencing Burnout?

Burnout symptoms can show up in different ways. They often show up as emotional exhaustion, depersonalization or cynicism, and a reduced sense of personal accomplishment or satisfaction with one’s work.

In other words, burnout can make a person feel emotionally drained, detached from their work and colleagues, and like they are no longer making a meaningful contribution to their job or organization.

Let’s cover those symptoms.

Emotional Exhaustion

Feeling emotionally drained, overwhelmed, or detached, and lacking motivation or energy to complete tasks.

Cynicism or Depersonalization

Developing negative and cynical attitudes towards work, colleagues, or clients and losing empathy and compassion.

Reduced Sense of Accomplishment

Feeling less competent, productive, or effective in one’s work and experiencing decreased job satisfaction.

Physical Symptoms

Experiencing physical symptoms such as headaches, fatigue, difficulty sleeping, and gastrointestinal problems, which any underlying medical conditions may not cause.

Decreased Engagement

Feeling disengaged or disinterested in work activities and lacking a sense of purpose or meaning in one’s job.

Dealing with Burnout

Dealing with burnout requires a multifaceted approach that involves both short-term and long-term strategies to help you recover and prevent it from happening again. Let’s cover tips to help you deal with burnout.

First, let’s start with ways you can overcome burnout if you’re already experiencing it.

How to Personally Overcome Burnout

Take a Break

One of the most effective ways to deal with burnout is to take a break from the source of stress. Taking a break could involve taking a vacation, taking a personal day off, or reducing your workload. Try to disconnect from work or other stressors and focus on doing things you enjoy or finding ways to relax and recharge.

Practice self-care

Self-care is vital for your overall well-being. Make sure you get enough sleep, eat healthily, and engage in physical activity such as exercising. Incorporate activities that make you happy and relaxed, such as reading a book, taking a bath, or spending time with loved ones.

Prioritize your workload

One of the reasons for burnout is an overwhelming workload. Use task prioritization techniques to focus on and handle your most important tasks first. Don’t hesitate to delegate tasks that are less important but also necessary to complete. Also, don’t be afraid to delete insignificant activities from your to-do.

Set Boundaries

Learn to say no to additional tasks or responsibilities that could add to your workload. Set boundaries and stick to them to avoid over-committing yourself. Fight the temptation to continue working after hours, and always make sure you focus on personal activities at the close of the day.

Seek Support

Talking to a trusted friend, family member, or mental health professional can help you process your feelings and cope with burnout. Professional guidance can help you deal with issues causing burnout, so don’t hesitate to ask for it if you’re struggling psychologically.

It is also beneficial to approach human resources or speak with a supervisor if your organization is committed to establishing a more positive work atmosphere. Changing positions within the company or seeking a new job might be required to begin the recovery process from burnout. Switching tasks can be a helpful alternative when it is impossible to change jobs.

How to Prevent Burnout

Once you’ve overcome burnout, you must employ measures to ensure it doesn’t happen again. These tips will help.

Set Realistic Goals

Set goals that are achievable and realistic. Avoid overcommitting yourself to avoid feeling overwhelmed. Being ambitious is alright, but you should temper your ambition with discipline. You can measure your productivity and determine the best average time for completing individual tasks. Then, use that assessment to set your goals.

Take Regular Breaks

Make it a habit to take regular breaks throughout the day, even if it’s just for a few minutes. This can help you refresh and refocus. According to a 2022 study, taking short breaks between work tasks to engage in recovery activities can effectively solve burnout.

So, ensure you make time for rest and relaxation in your daily routine. This could mean meditating, reading, or engaging in other hobbies that help you relax.

Improve Work-life Balance

Improving the balance between your personal and work life is an effective way to avoid work stressors. Don’t allow your work to take up all the time in your typical day. Make time for personal and social activities, as they also make you fulfilled and happy.

Start by creating a strict schedule, especially if you work remotely. Make sure you respect that schedule and focus on personal activities outside work hours.

Then, pick only tasks you believe you can complete during the day or carry over to the next day.
In the same vein, refrain from engaging in domestic or personal activities during work hours.

Develop Healthy Habits

Practice healthy habits such as regular exercise, healthy eating, and getting enough sleep to help reduce stress.

Use Effective Time Management

Effective time management can help you prevent job burnout as it allows you to balance your workload better, prioritize tasks, and establish boundaries between work and personal time.

Specific time management techniques and tools can help you prioritize your tasks, optimize your schedule, and prevent burnout.

For example, you can use Traqq to measure your productivity, understand how much time you need to complete tasks, and see where you spend the most. This data will help you allocate time more efficiently, reduce distractions, and structure your day better.

What Can Managers Do to Prevent Employee Burnout?

According to Gallup, managers can take different measures to significantly reduce workplace stressors and prevent burnout. If you’re a manager, here are tips that can help you keep workers sharp and engaged:

Listening to workers about work-related issues: This simple but effective approach can significantly reduce burnout rates. Employees whose managers lend an ear to their concerns are 62% less likely to experience burnout. By listening and understanding their employees’ needs, managers can take the first step towards supporting them. It’s crucial for managers to address their employees’ problems and show genuine care and concern for their well-being as individuals. Ultimately, this creates a positive work environment that fosters employee engagement and productivity.

Foster a culture of teamwork: In the workplace, colleagues can offer valuable emotional support to peers who are experiencing difficulties. They may empathize with the stresses of the job in a way that managers cannot. Nevertheless, managers should not remain passive in this regard. It is their duty to establish a work environment that encourages teamwork, where individuals assist one another, and everyone has access to a willing listener.

Optimize employees’ strengths: The Gallup research suggests that employees who are given the chance to utilize their strengths are 57% less likely to experience burnout on a regular basis. Managers can effectively leverage their team’s strengths by identifying them, acknowledging them, and guiding their staff toward assignments and collaborations that will make the most of their natural abilities. By adopting a strengths-based development approach, employees tend to feel more enthusiastic and positive, leading to lower levels of stress and a greater focus on achieving success rather than perceiving their job as a source of burden.

Ensure work has a purpose: Employees desire meaning in their job beyond just earning a salary. Managers need to go beyond displaying the mission statement and demonstrate how their staff’s work impacts the world.

Burnout Can Go Away With the Right Approach

If you care about your employees and they form a real asset to your company, it is time to use Traqq.
Traqq is a time-tracking application and employee monitoring software that you can use to monitor and track your tasks, activities, and hours. And if you’re managing employees, you can easily monitor the productivity of your staff with online timesheets and build in rewards to motivate your team.

With the tool’s data, you can prevent burnout in many ways. You can see who’s overworking themselves and encourage them to take breaks. You can also use the tool’s report to figure out how to match tasks to the right talent.

Traqq has an upcoming feature that allows managers to enforce strict work schedules without harming workers’ freedom. Employers will be able to restrict hours when workers can track time, depending on their time zones and availability.

How to prevent employee burnout?

If you care about your employees and they form a real asset to your company, it is time to use Traqq.

Traqq is a time tracking application and employee monitoring software that you can use to monitor and track your tasks, activities and hours. And if you’re managing employees, you can easily monitor the productivity of your staff with online timesheets and build in rewards to motivate your team.

Useful Resources

1. Kronos employee burnout crisis study

2. Factors that contribute to employee burnout

3. Tell-tale signs of employee burnout

4. Recognizing and preventing burnout

5. How could an employer prevent workforce burnout

6. An epic guide on burnout prevention from Neil Patel

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