This year, the American workforce is under tremendous amount of stress due to the pandemic. A survey by FlexJobs and Mental Health America (MHA) found that 75% of people have experienced burnout at work, and 40% report experiencing burnout during the pandemic. This survey also found that 37% of people have been working longer hours since the pandemic started. Burnout has had a toxic effect on employee productivity and motivation, and has become a pervasive issue in American businesses and organizations. So, what can we do?

How to spot burnout

The Mayo Clinic describes job burnout as a special type of work-related stress — a state of physical or emotional exhaustion that includes a sense of reduced accomplishment and loss of personal identity.

The Mayo Clinic’s burnout self-appraisal:

  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers, or clients?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you find it hard to concentrate?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
  • Are you using food, drugs, or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
  • Have your sleep habits changed?
  • Are you troubled by unexplained headaches, stomach or bowel problems, or other physical complaints?

If employees answer yes to one or more of these, they might be experiencing burnout.

Causes of burnout

Unclear job expectations: When employees are not clear on what is expected from them in key areas like work output, level of authority, or autonomy, it can cause stress as they manage their way through the ambiguity.

A heavy and sporadic workload: Intense periods of work and activity produce stress and cause fatigue in employees. If this is a regular occurrence, it can have a damaging effect on employee output and focus.

Work-life imbalance:  This is the inability to separate home life from work. When work life creeps into home life employees experience fatigue and neglect personal relationships. This also takes away from activities that reenergize and refocus.

How to address burnout

Open communication: The most important thing you can do is keep the lines of communication open with your employees. Establishing a culture that encourages communication between reports and managers allows you to spot warning signs early. This can mitigate the damage burn-out has on your productivity and culture.

Encourage work-life balance: Actively encourage your employers to establish a distinct separation between work and home life. Encourage not doing work outside of business hours and taking their paid time off (PTO).

Reasonable workloads: Have your managers monitor and manage their direct reports’ workloads and schedules. Do not optimize for optimal output. Aim to maintain consistent and reasonable workloads. This will minimize fatigue and drops in focus.

Remote workers are burnt out too

The quick and unexpected shift to remote work has had a debilitating effect on employees. Remote workers are no less susceptible to burnout than their in-office counterparts. Remote work offers its own stressors and challenges. The separation between home and work is one of them. This distinction can be difficult to maintain in a traditional work environment, but the problem is exacerbated when the physical space between office and home is blurred. This is particularly true when children are in the home, as it can be difficult for young children to understand the difference between work time and home time.

So, what can we do about it?

  • Managers should reinforce the distinction between work and home time and try to not send communications to their reports after work hours. A new poll conducted by OnePoll found that 67% of those working remotely feel pressured to be available at all hours of the day.
  • Managers should lay out clear expectations of what they expect from their remote workforce. Remote workers are prioritizing busy work and working overtime to signal that they are being productive at home. This increases employee fatigue and delays important projects. The poll conducted by OnePoll also found that 6 in 10 respondents fear that their job would be at risk if they do not go above and beyond by working overtime.
  • Allowing for flexibility in work schedules can help employees better balance home and work life. Workday found that 56% of workers overwhelmingly listed flexibility in their workday as the top way their workplace could offer support.
  • Encourage them to take their breaks and get away from their desks. A survey by Tork shows that nearly 20% of North American workers worry their bosses will not think they are hardworking if they take regular lunch breaks, while 13% worry their co-workers will judge them.

Employee burnout has been an issue in organizations for years, but this year has seen an abnormally high number of external stressors on organizations and their workforce. It is particularly important in our current environment to learn to spot employee burnout and mitigate the effect on your business. To learn how we can help you and your business send us a message.