The Rise of Employee Burnout

Introducing ‘Five Reasons to Raise Our Human Game’, our latest series of articles delving into the top five people challenges of 2024 we have identified in our exclusive research. 

With 1 in 2 workers experiencing burnout, we explore how human connection serves as an antidote to prevalent issues like burnout and stress, which are affecting workplaces across the country. 

Burnout can manifest itself in different ways in different people, leaving employees feeling negative, cynical, and emotionally exhausted. In this instalment, we turn our attention to the alarming rise of burnout among employees. We offer our expert insights into promoting high-performing teams through human connection and skills so you can effectively build a resilient culture.

Understanding Burnout

Burnout has become a prevalent issue across a wide range of industry workplaces. With more and more workplaces demanding faster turnouts, higher outputs, and increased efficiency, employees at different job levels and experiences are feeling overwhelmed. 

Burnout is, in fact, included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an occupational phenomenon described as “a syndrome conceptualised as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. 

Characterised by feelings of exhaustion, increased mental distance from one’s job or cynicism, and reduced effectiveness at work, burnout can have serious consequences for both individuals and organisations. Exacerbated by the pandemic, with new ways of working, and increased workloads, the blurred boundaries between work and personal life and the heightened levels of stress, burnout has turned into a corporate epidemic.

Employees who silently suffer from burnout are more likely to be less effective at work and eventually seek opportunities elsewhere, leaving companies struggling to maintain stability and momentum. This emphasises the need for companies to strategise to support and equip the workforce to cope better with stress, focus on their mental health, and thereby prevent burnout and its detrimental effects to the human capital and the company’s success.

Identify the Root Causes

Before delving into strategies for effectively combating burnout, it is essential to be able to identify the signs of burnout and the root causes. Job burnout can occur within any organisation and stems from a range of causes, many of which relate directly to the employee’s role. The signs are identical: demotivation, absenteeism, and declining performance.

  1. Heavy Workloads

Excessive workload requires continuous effort from employees and is consequently a source of physiological and psychological distress. Exhausted, overloaded employees prioritise speed, often skipping final checks to move on to the next task as quickly as possible, which lowers the quality of work.

As a result of the need for and the associated stress, employees experience physical exhaustion and health problems such as headaches and insomnia, which also contribute to poor quality work and inconsistency at first. As burnout evolves, it evolves to psychological distancing and increased absenteeism.

  1. Lack of Work-Life Balance

Long hours, high expectations, relentless pressure to excel, and excessive workload can make it challenging to maintain a healthy work-life balance. Being solely focused on the work and not having adequate time to reflect on personal values and choices, spending quality time with family and friends, and prioritising self-care leads to complete exhaustion. 

This can have a ripple effect, leading to lower productivity and efficiency and a decrease in overall job and life satisfaction. In the long run, employees are more likely to feel disengaged from their work and less likely to stay with the company. Absence of work-life balance has been a major contributor to the Great Resignation and the continuous “quiet quitting” phenomenon.

  1. Unclear Expectations

Nearly 60% of employees report feeling work-related stress. Role ambiguity makes employees feel confused, uncertain, and anxious about feeling belittled if they are unable to complete the task given successfully or if they follow the wrong procedures.

When managers and senior leaders do not convey clear expectations to their employees or their teams, they unwillingly promote a culture of ambiguity that overwhelms employees who feel unsafe, uncared for, and uncertain of their role in the workplace. On the contrary, security-providing leadership is proposed to be a job resource to prevent employee burnout.

  1. Lack of Control

People tend to feel excited about their work when they are free to decide what needs to be done and how to solve problems. Being in control leads to professional fulfilment, accountability, creativity, and lower rates of burnout.  

On the other side of the spectrum, the inability to influence work-related decisions and make changes, lack of freedom at work and micromanagement have been positively linked to burnout.  A strong consensus among researchers suggests that being in control deters burnout both physiologically and psychologically. 

Physiologically, having control activates the reward system, reducing stress hormones, and psychologically, having control supports self-efficacy and motivation in challenging circumstances.

  1. Organisational Culture:

According to a survey by McKinsey, approximately one in four employees report experiencing toxic behaviour at work. The same survey found that employees who experience toxic behaviour at work are eight times more likely to experience burnout and six times more likely to leave their employers in the next three to six months.

Toxic workplace behaviours are a major cost for employers. Not addressing effectively a toxic organisational culture and cultivating healthy relationships among the workforce can lead quickly to a higher turnover and reduced productivity.

The Business Case for Addressing Burnout

Burnout is rampant in the corporate world, and the business case for addressing it is compelling and multifaceted. Globally, only 23% of workers are engaged and thriving at work, while 59% who are not engaged are “quiet quitting”, and 18% are “loud quitting”. 

Quiet quitting is largely caused by employee burnout. Exhaustion leads to reduced effort and disengagement, and the inability to address the issues within the organisation leads employees to search for opportunities elsewhere and surprise their employers when leaving. 

People who are “quite quitting” are minimally productive as they feel disconnected from their workplace. However, they are a low-hanging fruit, and if their issues are addressed, their productivity will elevate and will eventually stay with the company, resulting in lower turnover and higher productivity. 

Businesses should take a systemic approach to improving employee mental health and wellbeing. Companies must recognise the need to equip their people with mechanisms to cope better with stress and foster a workplace environment that promotes positive mental health and helps employees achieve their full potential and perform more efficiently, thus contributing to the team’s success.

How to Effectively Manage Burnout

To effectively combat burnout, it’s imperative to empower your workforce with the necessary tools and support systems to cope with stress and prevent its detrimental effects on mental health. Implementing a holistic approach that prioritises both human skills and human connections is the antidote.

Address Workload and Expectations

As mentioned above, the leading causes of burnout are the unrealistic workload and expectations. Open and honest conversation to proactively identify areas where support may be needed is the first step to addressing issues before they escalate. 

It’s important to make sure employees have a clear understanding of their roles and responsibilities, as well as any expectations surrounding deadlines and quality of work. It is equally important to start the conversation with employees to identify any reasonable causes for concert absences and to take steps to resolve them.

Leaders can effectively help employees manage their workload by prioritising tasks, delegating responsibilities, reviewing goals, applying time management techniques thus preventing confusion, dissatisfaction and burnout.

Prioritise a Healthy Work-Life Balance

One of the most significant causes of burnout is a lack of balance between work and personal life. When companies review their workforce strategies, they should consider these disaffected employees as most likely disempowered ones.

This is why it’s important for managers to monitor and acknowledge stress levels and mental health at work. Regularly checking in on employee health and stress levels can help identify any issues early and provide support as needed. Support can take various forms, from ensuring employees don’t have excessive workloads to offering perks, stress seminars, and flexible working arrangements. Workers who cannot work remotely are also less likely to say their job is fulfilling, think their team cares about their wellbeing, believe they are fairly compensated, or believe they can be creative in their work.

Encourage Empathy

Creating a supportive environment where everyone is welcome and celebrated is imperative. Recognising and rewarding employees is an excellent way to motivate them, make them feel valued, and inspire them to perform to their full potential.

Providing regular constructive feedback and coaching is also important. Leaders can set up recurring meetings to have open conversations with their employees about the challenges they are facing. These conversations can be used to identify ways to help and encourage them and help them feel supported and valued. 

Additionally, from dedicated team-building sessions to arranging post-work team lunches or drinks, fostering a positive work atmosphere is essential. These activities not only strengthen bonds among employees but also cultivate a culture of collaboration and mutual support. 

Rather than fostering an environment of antagonism, such initiatives encourage teamwork and camaraderie, where colleagues come together to assist one another in accomplishing tasks, reaching KPIs and achieving goals.

Provide Resources and Support

The growing recognition of challenges such as stress, anxiety, and depression among employees calls for proactive measures to support their wellbeing.  For leaders, it’s imperative to ensure that a robust framework of resources is in place to aid employees facing mental health challenges.

This entails providing access to employee training programmes, counselling services, and mental health benefits, alongside implementing flexible policies such as sick leave policies. 

Leaders should invest in guides and training sessions tailored to address mental health issues, fostering a culture of understanding and support within the organisation. Taking it a step further, leaders can appoint and train dedicated mental health and wellbeing practitioners to provide in-house support for colleagues. 

Investing in human skills development along with technical skills enhancement is equally important. Innovative strategies include training programmes that encourage personal growth, build resilience, cultivate a growth mindset, improve interpersonal communication skills, and create new leaders or empower managers to create a supportive and engaging workplace.

Leaders can prevent burnout by offering leadership training to ensure they have the tools, skills, and knowledge to recognise stress in their teams and themselves. Furthermore, resilience can reduce feelings of frustration, insecurity, and helplessness that can contribute to burnout through learning and development. The reason is that it helps employees deal with challenging situations and setbacks more effectively.

Raise Your Human Game with POINT3 Wellbeing

Join us on our mission to help businesses build healthy and high-performing teams through the power of human connection. Together, we can create solutions to the many challenges employees face so they can perform at work and protect their health and wellbeing. 

At POINT3 Wellbeing, we are an impact-led employee wellbeing agency, working directly with people and businesses to make the greatest impact for your business by supporting your people and their mental health and wellbeing. Our innovative human skills training is tailored to providing support that motivates, educates, and energises employees. 

Get in touch today to discover how you can Raise Your Human Game.