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How employers can help prevent employee burnout

Health and Benefits|Talent|Wellbeing
COVID 19 Coronavirus

By Katie Hansen | May 3, 2021

Although employee burnout is a top workforce challenge, organizations can take steps to manage it.

Employee burnout isn’t a new challenge. But it’s become more acute during the past year of a deadly pandemic, job losses, isolation and social unrest. Employee productivity may be similar to pre-pandemic levels, but it has come at a cost — which is an increase in the likelihood of burnout among employees who have been managing personal, financial and professional challenges for more than a year.

Our research supports this observation. According to our 2021 employer survey: Emerging From the Pandemic, 81% of employers have identified burnout as a top workforce challenge. Such findings are unsurprising given the stresses employees are experiencing both at home (increasing caregiving responsibilities, for example), and the lack of in-person social interaction that we became accustomed to, even among those who are still going to work.

Employee burnout is also a global challenge and top risk factor for talent retention. But its effects aren’t limited to those who leave an organization. It can also affect organizational culture and employees who stay by reducing employee engagement, increasing mental health challenges and even causing tension among employees.

Organizations can reduce the risk of employee burnout by acknowledging the problem and developing strategies to rein it in. We suggest a three-step process:

  1. 01

    Prevent

    First and foremost, burnout is easier to prevent than it is to cure. Burnout can be prevented by, among other means, supporting employee wellbeing holistically. This can include individual programs and support like meditation, healthy nutrition guidance, physical activity challenges and resources for coping with anxiety and managing sleep.

    Employers can also look for ways to change workplace culture that supports time and stress balance through:

    • Mental health days
    • Safe and healthy outdoor break areas or indoor respite rooms
    • Reduced meetings through no-meeting days or reduced meeting times
    • Scheduled free or personal time
    • Revisiting break policies
    • Recognition of employee accomplishments
    • Encourage the development of strong work relationships and networks
    • Flexible and enhanced time-off policies and messaging

    The goal for employers should be to make it easy for employees to find these resources and incorporate them into their daily routines.

    Ask employees what they need — and then ask again. Employee needs change frequently as the cumulative effects of personal and work demands keep piling up. Everyone has a voice and wants it to be heard. Ask employees how they’re doing, where are they thriving, where are they struggling most, and which barriers stand between them and improving their wellbeing. This can not only help to prioritize where to focus next, but also what to emphasize.

    The best way to determine an action-oriented listening strategy is to collect feedback from many sources: employee resource groups, leaders, managers, focus groups and surveys. Sometimes the top barriers are perceived barriers and can more easily be addressed through intentional attention to cultural norms. For example, if limited flexibility and seemingly never-ending workloads are the top issues, there may be genuine leadership examples that can be shared to help change some of those perceptions to demonstrate what balance can look like.

  2. 02

    Identify

    Because of the virtual environment for those working remotely and the potential social isolation even for those working onsite, recognizing when someone needs help can be difficult. Many employees are experiencing burnout without the support, or even knowledge, of their peers or managers. Managers need to be empowered to voice concerns to leaders on behalf of their teams and be equipped to recognize the signs, lead with compassion, facilitate the necessary conversations and navigate the available resources to their teams. Managers and other leaders can be the most effective way to communicate available resources, but they need the appropriate support and training.

  3. 03

    Address

    Workload and the predictability of workload are significant drivers of potential burnout as, in many cases, employee workloads have become seemingly unsustainable. Employers can address this source of burnout through multiple channels that encompass workplace policies and support in addition to general workload and production expectations.

    These policies and support may include work flexibility, meeting protocols, connections to purpose and motivation through social networks or volunteer opportunities, time-off and leave programs, and authentic leadership support to address the stigmas of burnout. It is also essential to have robust mental health benefits for employees who are experiencing more severe depression and should seek help directly from community providers covered through medical plans, employee assistance plans, counselors, and the like.

    Companies must ensure that all changes that are implemented are sustainable. Burnout isn’t going away anytime soon, even with the COVID-19 vaccine here. How we work has forever changed. Make sure any program or policy changes are made for the long-term and aren’t simply short-term fixes.

Final thoughts

Even though employee burnout is a substantial concern and can feel impossible to solve, it is imperative to talent retention and the overall wellbeing of both employees and the organization. Every small action helps, as long as benefit programs, managers, leaders, communications, workplace policies and career development are addressing burnout holistically. Addressing burnout is an investment in the future success of the organization.

Author

Director, Health & Benefits

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