How to Help Employees with Burnout: 4 Ideas for Leaders
The design lead has called in sick for the third time in a month, the marketing team’s output has decreased and isn’t driving leads, and the Head of Sales has signed off long-term due to stress.
Individual contributors are disengaged in company meetings and look distracted on Zoom calls. Vacation requests are flying in faster than you can handle. Even your high-performers seem bored.
If you recognize this situation, your company might be experiencing an issue with employee burnout—a serious condition that impacts the lives and performance of individuals, teams, and organizations.
Burnout can be tricky to manage. In this article, we’ll share insights for leaders looking to learn how to help employees with burnout and show the signs to look out for.
What causes employee burnout?
Everyone goes through the occasional rough patch at work. Perhaps a new parent is getting used to a different sleep schedule, or an employee is dealing with an intense personal matter outside the office.
But burnout is deeper than the odd blip and may be more common than you think.
Deloitte surveyed 1,000 US professionals and found that 77% of respondents have experienced burnout in their current job, and 70% feel their employers aren’t doing enough to prevent or alleviate burnout at their organization.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “burnout is an occupational syndrome resulting from workplace stress that’s not been successfully managed.” The syndrome can result from:
- Excessive workload
- Lack of control
- Lack of recognition
- Dysfunctional interpersonal relationships and workplace dynamics
- Unclear job expectations
- Poor work-life balance
The impact of burnout on workplaces is hugely significant and includes absenteeism, job dissatisfaction, psychological distress, and physical pain—all of which impact employee well-being and business performance.
Leaders carry a heavy responsibility to create environments that fully address the workplace stressors that lead to burnout. But how?
4 ways to help and support employees with burnout
1. Recognize the signs of burnout
In an ideal world, leaders will recognize emerging signs of employee burnout and attempt to mitigate them before the syndrome worsens. But recognizing the signs isn’t always easy.
Burnout is more than feeling a bit tired or rundown. According to the US National Library of Medicine, signs of burnout include:
Employees are feeling drained and emotionally exhausted. They’re unable to cope, tired, and low in energy.
Stopping work-related activities
Burned-out employees tend to find their jobs stressful, frustrating, and overwhelming. They may become cynical about working conditions or colleagues and distance themselves from emotional ties to the company or department.
Reduced performance and efficacy
Employees with burnout are very negative about their day-to-day tasks and find it difficult to concentrate. They’re listless, lethargic, and lack creativity.
It’s important to look for burnout signs at an employee level alongside a team level. A bigger-picture view can help assess whether multiple employees are experiencing workplace burnout.
For example, have you seen a decrease in team productivity or performance? This could be a signal that your team is struggling.
To get an accurate picture of how the team or department feels, run an employee engagement survey to identify concerns before they impact employee morale, performance, or retention.
2. Encourage open communication to address the root cause
Create a workplace culture that encourages open dialogue between direct reports and leaders. Encourage employees to share their thoughts, feelings, and opinions in a judgment-free environment and focus on building strong employee/manager relationships.
Do this by ensuring you hold regular one-on-one meetings with your team and address employee well-being.
A simple “How are you feeling lately?” or “Is there anything I can do to make your job easier?” are simple starting questions that encourage direct reports to share experiences or concerns openly. Then, you can use your insights to understand what you need to adjust to decrease workplace stressors.
For example, Jane is one of your A-team. She shows up, contributes, and achieves results. However, she confides and shares with you that she’s struggling with her workload and is feeling overwhelmed.
As a leader, you take steps to mitigate burnout before it makes an impact. You reduce her assignments, adjust deadlines, encourage Jane to take a week’s vacation to recharge, and let her know that sharing her insights on work issues won’t lead to repercussions — a common employee concern when sharing workplace challenges.
3. Promote work-life balance
According to Pew Research Centre, employees feel very anxious about taking time away from work. Their research suggests that:
- 49% of US workers worry they might fall behind at work if they take time off
- 43% say they feel bad about their co-workers taking on additional work
- 19% have concerns that taking time off might hurt their chances for job advancement
- 16% say they might risk losing their job if they take time off
To alleviate this anxiety, taking time away from the workplace must start from the top down.
Be a responsible leader and set an example for your employees. Book and actively use your PTO, and don’t check Slack or respond to emails while you’re offline.
Encourage your employees to do the same. To help remind them, send quarterly updates of how much vacation or personal time they have left for the year and explain the benefits of using it.
Help your direct reports completely unplug and recharge from their day-to-day responsibilities at work by setting firm communication boundaries. For example, implement a rule whereby no one checks or responds to emails or messages after 7 p.m. unless they’re of an urgent matter. This will help employees to take genuine breaks from work to rest.
4. Invest in employee assistance programs (EAPs)
A well-rounded company understands that the success of its employees goes beyond professional achievements; it’s about fostering an environment where personal growth is supported. Many organizations offer support for employees to pursue personal growth and mental wellness through an employee assistance program (EAP).
An EAP is a structured benefit program designed to help workers navigate and overcome personal or work-related challenges that might be affecting their well-being or performance. EAPs typically provide confidential and often free or low-cost services to employees, ranging from counseling services to resources for managing stress, substance abuse, or other personal issues.
Access to EAPs gives employees more resources and opportunities to speak with mental health-trained professionals on a regular basis. This form of support provides employees with the tools to navigate challenges, view problems from different perspectives, and ultimately find answers to the puzzles that life throws their way. Providing a program like an EAP acknowledges the reality that, while HR leaders can and should support both the professional and personal growth of employees, they can only do so much when it comes to addressing the intricate nuances of employee mental health and wellbeing, and it’s beneficial to be able to provide employees with the support of mental health trained professionals.
Join a community that cares
HR leaders are at risk of burnout too, and need support. We’ve built a supportive community of HR peers who are always willing to give help and advice. Join the HR Superstars community to get timely resources, connect with peers and experts, and continue growing to make an impact in your organization.