The not so hidden cost of employee burnout

Burnout is often viewed as the inevitable price of doing business but it doesn't have to be. Check out these 5 common causes of burnout and 5 strategies you can use to do something about it.

Employee burnout is a common occurrence in many workplaces. A recent Gallup study revealed that 23 percent (or nearly 7,500 full-time employees) reported “feeling burnt out at work very often or always”, while 44 percent said they, “felt burned out sometimes”. That’s around two-thirds of the workforce that is affected by feelings of burnout.

When employees experience burnout, they become mentally and physically exhausted, losing their previous level of energy and focus. These employees often miss work frequently due to reported illness, not getting enough rest, or just going home early feeling bad. Oftentimes, groups of employees become burnt out together, which reduces their ability to complete tasks on time and puts teams or departments at risk. With burn out on the rise, what are we do about it? 

What are the causes of employee burnout?

Employee burnout is caused by a number of factors, many of which can be prevented as we’ll show below. Human resource management has a lot to do with reducing burnout. From how candidates are matched to appropriate job assignments to the way all employees are treated, HR can support the reduction of employee burnout. Some of the leading causes of employee burnout include:

Unclear description of role and responsibilities

Employees are often excited when they are hired on, but once their basic onboarding is over and they’re on their own they become confused about their role. This can create a lot of stress. The uncertainty leads to conflicts and lack of productivity, which means the employee can become frustrated over not knowing what he or she is supposed to be working on to be successful.

Lack of management support

One of the main reasons that employees experience burnout is because of a lack of management support and guidance. Frequent communication and support from a manager can help employees overcome obstacles that stand in their way at work, but poor management abuses employees to the point of burnout.

Discriminatory treatment of employees

If employees feel that they are unfairly treated by management, or that there is favoritism, they may constantly try to prove their worth by working too much. Others will start to become resentful and disconnect from the previously great work they used to do.

Read more: Promoting a work-life balance can benefit your organization in these key ways

Workload overload

In many organizations, there seems to be a habit of piling too much work on employees. Some managers even promote workaholism instead of work life balance. High-performance employees are especially prone to this as they regularly take on new challenges. This can spread their abilities too thin, causing them to make a mistake and once this happens, their spirit is broken, creating burn out.

Unreasonable expectations

Some industries are more prone to producing employee burnout than others. Jobs in healthcare, for example, put added pressure on employees in workplaces where there are often worker shortages and long working hours. In other cases, not being realistic when handing out work assignments or assigning deadlines can have the same effect.

What are the effects of employee burnout on the workplace? How much it is costing your business?

The burnout of employees is a symptom of bigger problems within each organization. It has a negative effect on nearly every aspect of a business. From excessive tardiness and absenteeism to lack of employee engagement, burnout is sneaky and damaging over time.

It’s also costly. An article in the Harvard Business Review indicated that employee burnout costs an estimated $125 billion to $190 billion in health care spending annually. Issues like type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, heart disease, gastrointestinal problems, and depression all have strong links to employee burnout.

From a business standpoint, the cost of employee burnout can be significant. It’s also measurable. Consider how many hours of work are missed by employees in a year, due to being tardy, absent, or leaving early. In many cases, these employees report feeling exhausted or run-down. They may be the same employees who neglect to take planned time off when they need to. Then consider the employees who are not performing up to par or the projects that have failed because of burnout. Last, look at the turnover rates in your organization and the costs associated with replacing departing employees. These factors all add up.

Pro-tip: Develop your managers into great leaders with 360 review tools

Strategies to reduce employee burnout

Employees hitting meltdown levels of stress may not be 100 percent preventable, but there are things that can be done to reduce employee burnout so that it doesn’t cost your business good people and, ultimately, profits.

#1 – Change the organizational culture

Employee burnout is an organizational problem. If leaders look the other way, this doesn’t solve a thing. Instead, make this a priority to weed out any corporate cultural factors that accept the conditions that lead to burnout — and correct them.

#2 – Coach managers on burnout prevention

Management is at the heart of transforming the organization. They need training and support that will enable them to be able to spot the signs of burnout and address it before it gets out of hand. They also need to know how to hire the right people for every job and clearly define job roles. This is an opportunity to coach management and make sure they change their ideas around this subject. Also encourage management to lead by example, setting positive work boundaries their direct report can emulate. 

#3 – Coach employees on better work habits

Educate employees on what to do if they feel burnt out or frustrated about their work. Most employees already know if they have a problem and want help to stay productive. Coach employees on taking vacation time off when needed, avoiding poor work habits, and asking for help if they get overwhelmed.

#4 – Make HR an ally 

There is often a sense in many organizations that HR is on the side of the company, not the employees. Because of that belief, sometime factors that lead to burnout aren’t addressed as quickly as they could be. Make it clear that HR is a resource that can be trusted. HR can be outsourced to make it more impartial rather than keeping the department in house. Or company wide anonymous polling can be used by HR to take the employee temperature on key issues (some mobile polling options even allows this sort of communication to happen on a monthly basis). 

#5 – Use assessments to improve management performance

If direct report surveys aren’t part of a manager’s annual performance review, they should be. Find ways to make managers more accountable to the people they lead. Instead of tying a bonus only to end results, tie part of it to team satisfaction and engagement. Leadership 360 assessments can be used to help managers see how others are viewing their abilities and what they can do better. Annual management surveys can then be used to show whether a manager is taking their growth goals seriously or whether they’re falling back into old habits. 

Why should you care about employee burnout?

Every organizational leader should care about employee burnout. This is a costly and damaging phenomenon that does not have to happen as the inevitable price of doing business. But it all starts from the top. When leaders get behind prevention, the rest of the organization can do the same. Valuing an employee’s mental and physical health can only help make a workplace, and corporate culture, better. And when the employees win, so does the bottom line. 


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