In 2019, the World Health Organization (WHO) announced work burnout as a global occupational issue. According to the American Institute of Stress, 83% of workers in the U.S. suffer from work-related stress which results in loss of productivity and absenteeism from work because of depression. These statistics indicate that work burnout has become a major concern and challenge for organizations worldwide.
This blog discusses some of the significant factors contributing to work burnout and how employers can address it.
What is Work Burnout?
The American Thoracic Society defines burnout syndrome or work burnout as a work-related phenomenon that causes psychological disorders and is mostly triggered by the expectations of employees and the actual requirements of their roles. You can understand it as chronic workplace stress or fatigue, which is not managed. The following are the three key aspects of work burnout:
- Job exhaustion: Employees feel mental exhaustion, fatigue, or depletion
- Cynicism: People suffering from work burnout tend to emotionally or mentally distance themselves from their job and develop cynicism or a negative approach toward their work
- Inefficiency: Work burnout may also lead to professional inefficiency as employees constantly feel stressed and are unable to perform
How to Address Work Burnout
Eliminate Toxic Behavior at the Workplace
A report on employee burnout by McKinsey Health Institute indicates that a toxic work environment is the most significant cause of employee burnout. The report further suggests that promoting resilience and adaptability skills in employees to help them adapt to a dynamic work environment can help address the issue. However, employees should not solely rely on it as a way to solve the question of a work burnout. If the workspace is unsupportive, training the employee to become more adaptable will be of little help.
A systematic organizational change to eliminate toxic behavior at the workplace is what employers need to focus on. It can include redesigning organizational structure and processes, job expectations, and providing better employee incentives. Other ways to reduce toxicity at the workplace and address work burnout are:
- Fostering a culture of respect and inclusivity: Leaders must value all employees, treat them with respect, and acknowledge their efforts. It is essential for employers and employees to show mutual respect at the workplace, which is why leaders should be empathetic and kind toward their team members.
- Take immediate action in case of conflict: Promoting a positive and honest work environment can also help reduce toxicity. Employers must take strict and immediate action if an employee reports conflict or harassment at the workplace.
- Involve employees in decision-making: Seeking inputs from employees and implementing those can promote job satisfaction among employees and reduce work burnout.
Addressing the Root Cause
A lot of employers tend to focus on remediating the symptoms of work burnout instead of focusing on the actual issues. While offering time away from work, unlimited leaves, recreation, and counseling sessions can help reduce work burnout, it will not necessarily fix underlying organizational issues. Hence, it is essential to find out the root causes of employee burnout. Here’s how employers can do that:
- Conduct regular surveys: Organizations can conduct surveys to understand the levels of burnout among their employees and gather data on potential root causes. Surveys can help identify factors that contribute to the burnout—workload, lack of support, and inadequate compensation, for instance.
- Analyze work processes: Employers can review work processes and workflows to determine if there are any inefficiencies, redundancies, or bottlenecks that may be contributing to employee burnout. Simplifying or streamlining work processes can help reduce workload and provide employees with more control over their tasks.
- Conduct interviews: Employers can conduct interviews with employees to gather in-depth information about the factors contributing to their burnout. Interviews can provide valuable insights into the specific challenges employees are facing and the types of support they may need to manage their workload.
- Provide support and resources: Employers can also provide support and resources such as employee assistance programs, mental health resources, and training programs to help employees manage stress and prevent burnout. By addressing the root causes, organizations can create a more positive work environment that supports employee well-being, engagement, and productivity.
Avoid Role Ambiguity
Another significant reason for work burnout is role ambiguity or role conflict. This occurs when employees are unaware of the job expectations and are asked to perform tasks that do not align with their role or professional goals. Role ambiguity leads to job dissatisfaction. The best way to address it is to offer clarity to the employees by defining clear expectations, job deliverables and priorities, and acknowledging stakeholders. It can be done in the following ways:
- Defining a clear scope and parameters of the job to avoid overlapping tasks
- Conducting regular employee surveys on job clarity at the workplace
- Ensuring alignment of employees with their job expectations by fostering open communication at work
Implement Performance Management
Research suggests that organizational justice and employees’ physical and mental health are interconnected. Organizational justice refers to the perception of employees that they are being fairly treated at the workplace and their viewpoints are being considered in decision-making. Employee burnout is less when there is organizational justice or fair performance management as employees feel valued. Thus, ensuring high-quality performance management at organizations helps address work burnout. The following are some of the ways to implement performance management at the workplace:
- Providing strength-based feedback: Managers can focus more on providing strength-based feedback. This means highlighting employees’ skills, job performance, and knowledge for performance appraisal instead of focusing solely on weaknesses. Receiving clear and actionable feedback on their performance keeps employees motivated and increases productivity.
- Establishing developmental objectives: Setting goals that focus on the overall development of employees can help increase their commitment and accountability. Also, involving employees in the goal-setting process can make them feel motivated, reducing chances for burnout.
- Focus on both financial and nonfinancial rewards: Monetary and nonmonetary rewards like bonuses, developmental training, flexible work schedule, and additional work-life benefits can also help reduce work burnout.
Encourage Social Support at the Workplace
One of the most significant factors that can foster positive psychology in an organization is offering social support to employees. Research suggests that social support provides several benefits and creates a healthy environment in the workplace. It promotes positive relationships between employers and employees and reduces the negative impact caused by stressful demands. This is based on the Conservation of Resources (COR) theory, which suggests that in times of crisis, individuals tend to protect and retain their resources. Therefore, if employees get social support at their workplaces, work burnout can be reduced. Here is how employers can cultivate social support:
- Leaders must be empathetic toward their employees and build high-quality relationships, especially when employees work in emotionally charged environments. For example, in the case of employees working in the emergency room of a hospital.
- Organizations must also not force social interactions among employees as it creates a stressful environment.
Work burnout often results in organizations losing out on talented employees. Learning and development skills play a key role in addressing work burnout. Training employees to manage stress levels and encouraging diversity and inclusion in the workplace can go a long way in reducing burnout. Do check out these online courses from Emeritus to acquire the right development skills, which could ultimately boost your as well as your coworkers’ and employees’ professional growth.
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