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Photo by: Magnet.me for Unsplash

What is Burnout?

There’s no doubt that, as the pandemic continues with no clear end in sight and 2020 continues to offer up a grim array of challenges, mental health has taken a hit this year. With that, employers are seeing a rise in employee burnout. Burnout itself is nothing new. Businesses have been working to combat it for quite some time, in an effort to combat its negative effects. In fact, in 2019 workplace burnout was deemed common and severe enough for the World Health Organization to add it to its updated publication of the International Classification of Diseases, defining it as, “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stretch that has not been successfully managed.” Those experiencing burnout often feel chronically fatigued and stressed to the point of frequent panic attacks.

In the current pandemic, a staggering number of work from home employees have succumbed to some form of burnout as pandemic lockdowns tend to intensify these feelings of fatigue and desperation, with already stressed people dealing with the uncertain state of the world struggling to obtain work-life balance with their work and their lives confined to their homes. On July 28, CNBC reported that approximately 69% of work from home employees were experiencing symptoms of burnout. Unfortunately, this number only stands to increase as we head into winter. 

Why Should This Concern Employers?

Many employers tend to see burnout as a personal issue, something that the employee should be working to handle on their own, doing more yoga, meditation, etc., but that’s not typically the case. Employee burnout is often intensified when workplaces fail to make continuous, concerted efforts to prioritize employee mental health. Some employers worry that some commonly proposed solutions, like expanding to offer more mental health resources and benefits or shortening working hours, could be costly, but the truth is ignoring burnout can be extremely costly to a business. Failing to work together to get burnout under control has adverse effects on both the people struggling and the business itself. Gallup posits that burnt-out employees are 63 percent more likely to take a sick day. Forbes states that burnout leads to between $125 billion and $190 billion in healthcare costs per year, disengaged and less productive employees who can cost employers about 34% of their annual salary per year, and a significant increase in turnover rate, sometimes up to 50%. Simply put: happy, healthy, employees are good for business. 

So How Can You Help?

It’s true that there are many factors out of everyone’s control right now. No employer can take away the stress of the pandemic or reduce uncertainty worldwide, but there are other ways that you can help your employees through burnout. Many companies have started experimenting with different, creative ways to help their employees combat or avoid burnout. Below are some tips from tactics that we’ve seen for you to consider for your business: 

  1. Pay Attention: 

Burnout doesn’t always, or even usually, mean that your employees will quit their jobs or stop trying in a way that is obvious to you. You might notice that your employee seems tired, or unhappy in meetings. You might also notice that they’re making more mistakes than usual, regardless of being the kind of person who values attention to detail and historically works hard to do their best at their job. Maybe their attitude has also changed, for example they’re irritable and cynical when they’re usually happy-go-lucky. These are all signs that your employee could be experiencing burnout. Before assuming that they’re just having a bad week, consider that your employee could be experiencing burnout and plan to address it as such. 

  1. Ask Questions: 

Meet with your employees one-on-one to discuss how they are feeling. Be aware that you may have to be a little patient with them and assure them that they have a safe space to tell you how they’re doing. Right now, most people who have jobs are terrified of losing them, even if their work is making them unhappy. They likely even feel guilty that their work is making them unhappy, because they feel they should be grateful to have a job when so many of those unemployed due to Covid-19 would do anything to be in their shoes. It’s a nuanced situation and the state of the economy has made addressing burnout a more complicated issue than it has been in the past. The good news is that as an employer, there’s a lot that you can do to help your employees combat burnout, but the first step is listening to their needs and working to create and maintain the healthiest work environment possible based on the feedback your employees give.

  1. Adapt: 

Be aware that your employees are most definitely under extra stress right now and have been for the past nine months. That’s a recipe for burnout, even in your most unshakeable and determined employees. According to this article from the Wall Street Journal, CEO’s everywhere have been focusing on creative burnout prevention tactics such as offering the option of a four day workweek, which has been shown to increase productivity by up to 40% and decrease risk of burnout, giving employees surprise days off, and offering greater access to mental health counseling services. 

Still, sometimes even when employers do the best they can to prevent it, these extraordinary circumstances can still lead to burnout, and that’s okay. There’s a lot that can be done to help your employee recover. Remember that your employees are human and if they get burnt out, create space for them to admit that to you openly without fear of serious consequences and work with them to create a personalized strategy to get them out of the burnout. In most cases, if you’re willing to work with your employees and show them compassion when they’re struggling, they’re willing to work with you. 

As in most situations in life, communication is key here. Have an honest conversation with them and brainstorm. First, talk about what they can do (or have tried already) on their own to improve their mental health, like increasing self-care strategies such as yoga, healthy eating, and the establishment of firm work-life boundaries. Then, ask them what they need from you and make some suggestions of what you can offer that you think may help. Finally, take the steps that you’ve agreed upon and check-in on them every now and then to ask how their recovery is going. 

What If I’m Experiencing Burnout? 

If you’re burnt out right now, don’t fret! It’s a really hard situation, for sure, but it doesn’t have to be a catastrophe. The first step is to acknowledge the burnout. If you can acknowledge what’s happening with yourself, and maybe some loved ones and/or your therapist, then you can start trying to address the problem for what it is.  Next, take stock of your life and your surroundings and note issues that might be causing the burnout. For most people, the number one culprits right now are probably, unfortunately, the pandemic and other outside stressors that are outside of their control. However, you’re also likely to find issues that you can manage or control in some way for an improved quality of life. 

Boundaries, for example, have become a huge issue for remote workers. Working from home has been shown to cause high burnout rates, because people are having a hard time separating their work lives from their home lives. It’s harder when everything happens under one roof! In fact, Bloomberg estimates that people who work from home are working longer hours than before. One company surveyed found that on average, employees were working twelve hour days, even if they were still starting at 9am. This happens because boundaries have gotten blurred. We don’t really leave work anymore. In many cases, people aren’t even reporting or noticing these extra hours. With nowhere else to go, it’s just become a habit for many to keep answering emails well into the night. 

This situation is a huge contributor to the rising burnout rates. If this is you, and you feel burnt out, it might be worth investigating what you can do to introduce some work-life boundaries. Start by trying to make a space in your home that is only dedicated to work and leave that space at the end of the day. It may also be worth having a conversation with your employer and coworkers about the boundaries you’re setting as well, so that they know what hours you’ll be available. Institute a hard cut-off time and stick to it. After that, unless in an emergency circumstance (which does happen occasionally), you’re clocked out until 9am the following morning. 

After setting these boundaries, you’ll probably have some extra time left in your day. Use that time for things in your life that make you happy and sustain you. Spend time with your family, go on walks, learn to cook, take up yoga or meditation or arts and crafts, whatever brings some balance and some joy back into your life. Hopefully, these tactics, along with increased communication about the situation with your employer, will help ease the stress a little and create a more sustainable quality of life. 

The Bottom Line

Employee burnout can be a difficult situation to deal with, but it doesn’t have to be devastating, not for your employees or for your business. At the end of the day, if your employees feel that you take their mental health seriously and are willing to adapt to their needs, especially in these unprecedented times, they’re likely to be more productive and loyal to you and your company in the long run. It’s all about creating a healthy and sustainable work environment. 

If you enjoyed this article, we think you’ll also enjoy this one from us on further ways to support employee mental health.