Employee Burnout is Costing You: 5 of the Top Causes

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By: Rachel Mucha for HR Morning, Photo by Tim Gouw on Unsplash

Good HR pros are aware of how much damage burnout can cause — both to productivity and the mental health of employees.

But many may not know just how serious this issue has become. The World Health Organization (WHO) recently declared employee burnout an “occupational phenomenon” that may require medical attention.

While WHO isn’t going as far as classifying burnout as a disease, it’s calling it a “syndrome resulting from chronic workplace stress that hasn’t been successfully managed.”

Identifying burnout

How do you know if your employees are suffering from burnout? WHO defines the top three symptoms:

  • feelings of depleted energy/exhaustion
  • increased negativity about one’s job, and
  • reduced professional efficiency.

Top causes

While employee burnout has been around forever, this is the first time WHO is recognizing it as a direct result from workplace stress only — any personal issues aren’t contributing to this phenomenon.

So what’s causing the big burnout spike? Here are the top five reasons employees are more stressed than ever before, and how you can fix it, straight from HR expert Ross Brooks.

1. Overwhelming workloads

Employees will quickly burnout if they have too much on their plates, Brooks says. Workers tend to get in over their heads when they lack some of the skills needed to complete their tasks.

One way to avoid this is to set clear goals for your employees at the start of the week. Instead of the never-ending to-do lists, encourage managers to give employees one to three manageable tasks at a time. Regular check-ins are a good idea, too, Brooks says, to ensure employees aren’t too overloaded.

2. Lack of control

Nothing causes more stress than rigid work schedules or being micromanaged. Brooks suggests giving employees more autonomy over their day-to-day tasks to reduce some of the pressure.

Managers could try just giving employees the desired result, and allowing them to reach that goal through whichever method works best for them — instead of spelling everything out.

3. Lack of rewards

If employees aren’t fairly compensated or rewarded for their work, they’re going to quickly stop caring.

Of course, raises aren’t always an option. Luckily, studies show recognition can be just as effective as a salary bump, Brooks says.

One way to effectively recognize your employees is to point out specific actions or behaviors that contributed to a job well done. Sharing employees’ triumphs in the form of a story can also help to motivate the rest of your staff.

4. No sense of community

Employees do their best work when they’re surrounded by likable co-workers who support them. When workers don’t have this sense of community with their colleagues, burnout is more likely to happen.

To foster this sense of community, it’s important to focus on team building activities, Brooks says. Lunches and happy hours are great ideas. Friendly competitions like some kind of fitness challenge can also bond colleagues.

5. Unequal treatment

When employees see managers holding workers to different standards or carrying out policies unequally, they’re quickly going to become disengaged with the company and their work.

The best way to address this is to write up clear policies and enforce them consistently, Brooks says. And when employees come to you with concerns about fairness, look into the situation and get back to them.

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