Article: Six ways your workplace culture can cause (and prevent) employee burnout

Talent Management

Six ways your workplace culture can cause (and prevent) employee burnout

Employee burnout is more than just feeling tired at work. To effectively define burnout, we must look at the stages of burnout
Six ways your workplace culture can cause (and prevent) employee burnout


After more than two years of a global pandemic, employees are more burned out than ever. Check out these troubling employee burnout statistics:

  •          In 2021, 79% of employees experienced work-related stress in the past month.
  •          44% report physical fatigue from work-related stress
  •          32% report emotional exhaustion from work

While the average employee says they are “fine” 14 times each week when asked how they are doing, they are lying almost 20% of the time. 70% of employees feel their employers aren’t doing enough to prevent or mitigate burnout at work

While employee burnout damages the physical and mental health and wellbeing of individual employees, it also impacts your overall workplace culture and future business performance. The cycle of absenteeism, disengagement, and decreased productivity can all weaken a great company culture.

As companies focus on re-energizing their organizational cultures post-pandemic, managing (and preventing) workplace burnout should be a priority.

What is employee burnout?

Employee burnout is more than just feeling tired at work. To effectively define burnout, we must look at the stages of burnout, which include:

  • Exhaustion (physical and mental fatigue)
  • Futility (cynicism and the perception that employees cannot change things or make a difference)
  • Avoidance (employees putting intentional distance between themselves and their work, dreading coming to work, and avoiding work)

What are the symptoms of employee burnout?

Signs of burnout include:

  • Dreading going to work
  • Feeling physical and mentally tired every day
  • Low motivation and productivity
  • Feeling a sense of hopelessness or finding work meaningless
  • Cynicism at work
  • Becoming irritable or impatient with colleagues
  • Lack of focus
  • Not wanting to socialise with peers or team members

What causes employee burnout?

In the past, the causes of burnout were blamed on things like occupation (specifically healthcare workers and emergency responders), job responsibilities (like tough demands on customer service workers), long hours or a demanding workload, a poor manager who gives unfair treatment, or bad cultural fit when organisations hire people. But now we see employees in every job, of every age, and in every type of company experience burnout.

What job has the highest burnout rate? Rather than looking at the type of job, it’s best to evaluate how the work environment and company culture cause burnout. The day-to-day realities, challenges, and hardships that employees face can lead to burnout if they are not supported by their teams, leaders, and organisations.

Research shows there are universal reasons for burnout. Things like:

  • Lack of appreciation
  • Conflicts on the team
  • Not having a well-defined role
  • Job stress

Six ways to prevent employee burnout

All employees are susceptible to burnout, no matter their age, tenure, job role, level, or industry. But employee burnout solutions don’t have to require extra cost or resources. Stress and burnout can easily be mitigated by providing a positive employee experience and a workplace culture that helps employees feel connected, whether they are at work, remote, or off the clock.

  1. Show appreciation. All employees want to feel valued and appreciated for their work, and when they are, they’ll work that much harder next time. But when they aren’t, they can start becoming cynical and feel their work and efforts don’t matter. When the amount of recognition given to employees is reduced, it increases the odds of burnout by 48%.

    Ensure recognition is given frequently and for a variety of reasons. It’s important not to just recognise the end result—give recognition along the way for ongoing effort, above and beyond work, career achievements, and team accomplishments. Ensure peers have the ability to recognise one another, as leaders don’t always see all the great work an employee is doing.

    An easy way to ensure all employees are recognised for their work regularly is to have a company-wide recognition program that allows employees to be recognised often and in a personal way. Tools like Culture Cloud enable leaders to give on-the-spot recognition whenever employees do great work.

  2. Provide purpose. Futility and meaningless work are a large part of burnout. There is a 22% increased odds of burnout if employees don’t see the bigger picture or the “why” behind the work they do. Provide employees with a meaningful purpose to work towards. Communicate that purpose clearly and often. Rally your people around it, and then tie each individual employee’s work and unique contributions back to that purpose.

    When you gather people around a worthy cause, they’ll be motivated to stick through the difficulties to achieve it. But employees must know how their efforts and work further your purpose. Use opportunities like public recognition or one-to-one conversations to connect your employees to purpose.

  3. Be flexible. A culture of overwork or unreasonable expectations contributes to burnout. A decreased sense of work/life balance leads to 26% increased odds of burnout.

    During the pandemic, work/life balance shifted to work/life integration. Work and family life have melded in Zoom meetings, as employees answered emails while caring for children or sick family members, and as people took breaks throughout a workday that extended past 5 p.m. Employees expect this level of work/life integration and flexibility even as they go back to the office. Provide your employees with flexibility in where and how they work and set clear expectations of when they should be working, and they’ll be more likely to better handle the stress and challenges at work.

    When employees struggle to separate their work and home life, there is an 11% increase in burnout. But when organizations provide ongoing communication and feedback about workplace flexibility and set expectations of when work should be done, wellbeing improves 52%.

  4. Build inclusion. In addition to feeling appreciated, all employees want to feel like they belong. Having a decreased sense of belonging increases the odds of burnout by 21%, and employees who feel “different” in some way at work are 126% more likely to suffer from severe burnout.

    Create an environment where employees feel psychologically safe and feel a sense of belonging in your organisation. Empower leaders to build inclusive cultures: help them see their employees as individual people with their own unique, intersectional identities and needs. Foster an environment that eliminates exclusion and builds inclusion into multiple points of the employee experience. Doing so will help all employees feel they are an important part of the organisation and that they belong, which will help prevent burnout.

  5. Connect employees. When employees feel connected to purpose, accomplishment, and one another at work, they’ll feel a greater sense of belonging at work and less avoidance or futility. A strong connection to the team, leader, and organisation leads to a 96% decrease in the likelihood of burnout.

    Help employees connect with other peers at work by providing opportunities for socialisation (on the clock), networking, and mentorship. Connect them to purpose by communicating how they uniquely contribute to your company’s purpose. And connect them to accomplishment by sharing their successes with others and recognising their achievements and contributions.

    Use solutions like Culture Cloud to help you seamlessly and continuously connect employees to one another, accomplishment, and purpose, no matter where in the world they are working from.

  6. Create modern leaders. Modern leaders naturally connect their people, provide purpose, build inclusion, and appreciate their teams. While traditional leadership practices of micromanaging and gatekeeping lead to a 10% greater incidence of burnout, modern leaders who connect with their people have a 57% reduction in burnout.

    Getting to know people as individuals and not just a mode of production will help identify and prevent burnout earlier. And providing all employees with opportunities to speak up, give input into decisions, and develop leadership skills also gives them the sense of opportunity for growth they need to avoid burnout.

    Organisations can fix and even prevent employee burnout by making small changes to their workplace culture. Build a workplace where employees don’t just survive—but one where they thrive.

    This article was first published here.

    To find out why employees leave and the top four ways recognition can slow resignation, download this exclusive whitepaper from O.C. Tanner.

 

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Topics: Talent Management, Benefits & Rewards, #Well-being

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