Employee burnout is a mental health concern in any workplace, and employees who experience it are 2.6 times as likely to be actively seeking another job. Aside from the more common workplace stressors, uncertain external factors — such as the COVID-19 pandemic — only exacerbate burnout. In fact, according to a recent study from Monster, 51% of respondents admitted to experiencing burnout while working from home during the pandemic.
“Their home, which is normally a sanctuary and place to rest and relax with family, has instantly morphed into their office,” said Vicki Salemi, a Monster career expert.
Read on to learn how employee burnout impacts satisfaction and turnover, and discover actionable tips to reduce stress among your staff — now and in the years to come.
Why do employees quit?
There’s a link between staff turnover and high-stress, fast-paced work environments. But research points to other issues as well, such as scheduling conflicts, unclear roles, and few opportunities for growth.
Additional reasons employees quit include:
- Supervisory concerns. Conflicts, disagreements, or issues with the management team can cause dissatisfaction among employees.
- Temporary work. There is little incentive to stay at a temporary job, such as those meant for college students or summer workers.
- Pay. Employee satisfaction slips if the salary is not commensurate with experience, level of education, on-the-job stress levels, position expectations, and more.
- Feeling unappreciated. Not hearing a thank-you for a job well done can put a damper on daily tasks and big successes alike — which can chip away at satisfaction.
Replacing staff is expensive, and covering shifts while hiring and training new staff puts a strain on existing employees. Also, staff members who have been with an employer for less than a year are more likely to quit. Instead of getting caught in the negative cycle of hiring, covering, and replacing, it’s better to pinpoint and combat employee burnout and retain staff.
What are the signs of employee burnout?
You can keep employee burnout at bay, but you must address the source and put an end to unhealthy workplace cycles. To catch the signs early, educate management teams on the indications of employee burnout. Put employees in control of their satisfaction as well. According to Mayo Clinic, some research suggests that many people who experience symptoms of burnout don't believe their jobs are the main cause. Let employees know what burnout is, how to identify warning signs, and how to take action to prevent it — and engage fully in business-wide strategies to reduce the effects of burnout.
There are many warning signs and symptoms of employee burnout, but some of the top indicators are:
- An increase in irritability or conflict
- A pessimistic outlook or marked lack of interest
- Decreased productivity or quality of work
- Fatigue or exhaustion
- Restlessness or insomnia
- Increase in physical illness or discomfort
- Mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression
- Isolation or avoidance in the workplace
- Decision fatigue
- Concentration or memory issues
Explore 11 ways to help prevent employee burnout
There is no single burnout-busting technique: The answers lie in finding the root cause of burnout and tackling the matter head-on. Explore these 11 tips for improving workplace culture and preventing — or reversing — employee burnout.
1. Create an environment of flexibility.
Whether in scheduling, task assignments, or other arenas, flexibility shows your staff that their time and effort is appreciated.
Examples of scheduling flexibility include:
- Adjusting shift start or end times to accommodate family time.
- Allowing an extended-hours schedule of four-days-on, three-days-off for an employee who would like to take more weekend trips.
- Adding extra staffing to the middle of the day so employees can take an extended lunch break for jogging, yoga, or a leisurely meal.
- Offering paid time off — that doesn’t count against sick time — for doctor or counseling appointments.
- Provide work-from-home opportunities for employees who want them, or follow the lead of Mojo Media Labs and implement something like Work From Home Wednesdays.
Flexibility can also mean updating job duties to better suit an employee’s day-to-day tasks or adjusting assignments to ensure each staff member can shine in their individual positions, as well as enjoy the work that they're doing.
2. Improve management techniques and strategies.
In a study by leadership consulting firm DDI, more than half of employees — 57% — reported having left a job because of their manager, and another 32% have considered leaving because of their boss. Common negative threads include lack of empathy, respect, or professionalism. Improving the effectiveness of leadership can increase employee satisfaction.
- Consistency and expectation-setting are key. Allowing issues to slide only to reprimand staff later produces a sense of unpredictability. Accountability only works if it's consistent.
- Make it a team effort. Build a solid leadership foundation to motivate the whole team. Provide staff with the tools they need to engage in active listening, feel comfortable enough to ask questions, and speak up if they have ideas or concerns. Develop a team-wide strategy for communication to facilitate positive change.
- Learn to listen. There’s power in listening. Enlist powerful active listening strategies, including refraining immediate judgment, and reflecting back what employees have expressed. Remember that active listening takes practice.
- Be understanding. As a manger, it's important to know that there are some thing you might not know when it comes to your team's personal life. Communication strategies vary from person to person, but a simple "how's it going?" can go a long way. When holding one-on-one meetings, don't strictly talk about work. Ask them what they're doing this weekend, if they're currently bing-watching any good shows, or anything in between.
- Be proactive and approachable. If employees don't feel as though they can approach leadership to discuss difficulties — whether related to work or life at home — it can contribute to burnout. Let team members know that you're there to help.
3. Provide top-notch orientation and ongoing training.
Improper or inadequate training and a lack of resources can contribute to stress in the workplace. Insufficient onboarding and limited support can lead to mistakes, poor performance, or negative interactions with staff and management alike. Remove these stressors with a targeted training program for new hires.
- Review your onboarding process. Are your training materials in-depth and up-to-date? Does the employee handbook explain policies and provide appropriate resources to staff? For example, in the hospitality industry, every member of your sales team should understand your hospitality and RFP management software — tools specifically designed to support their efforts. And your venue support team should know where the supplies are stored and who to turn to when issues arise. Unprepared new employees leave other staff overwhelmed.
- Encourage questions. During and after orientation are perfect opportunities to ask questions and encourage feedback to improve training for future new hires. It’s also a good time to establish a work environment that welcomes — and responds to — questions.
- Encourage continued training. Pave the road to success and advancement for dedicated staff members who seek professional development opportunities.
- Fund continued education. Support learning with scholarship opportunities and other assistance, if possible, to help staff members and their families reach educational goals.
4. Provide paths to promotion.
It doesn’t stop with training. Allow opportunities for advancement and continued growth within the company, and let employees know the possibility exists. Recruit from within to fill open positions. Initiate conversations and discuss goals with motivated, performance-driven staff who always tackle a challenge. Turn your problem-solvers and go-getters into leaders before they look elsewhere.
5. Favor autonomy over micro-managing.
Micro-management increases the risk of burnout in both staff and leadership. Maintaining strict control over a team can increase after-hours work and worry. In addition to drawing ire from employees, supervisors who refuse to relinquish control may spread themselves too thin and risk overextending themselves. Alternatively, work may stagnate under a supervisor who grasps for control in all things. Instead, listen, provide direction, and set clear goals for staff.
- Ask what support each employee needs. Some people prefer supervisors with an interactive approach — others look for the opposite. Create a professional environment where individuals can thrive without feeling pestered or neglected.
- Set clear goals, and step back. With a target date or a firm deadline in place, there’s no need for a daily check-in — show employees that you have confidence in them. Delegate, then let them succeed without interference. For work-from-home employees, constantly pinging them on Slack or sending them email after email can lead to frustration, as well as cause a disruption of work.
- Create paths to success, not obstacles. If strict control is the norm, team members may be hesitant to provide feedback, suggestions, or extra effort. Instead, create a dialogue. Determine levels of achievement in each role to motivate success. Don’t set staff up for failure, either: Untenable assignments and goals only add pressure.
6. Build a stellar company culture.
Your workplace and company culture set the tone for interactions among employees at every level. Create a healthy workplace culture that clarifies — in policy, words, and deeds — zero tolerance for harassment and behaviors that make any staff member feel unsafe, uncomfortable, or unwelcome. When all staff members buy into the company culture, you enjoy a happier, more productive team. Check out these suggestions for defining a positive company culture.
- Focus on core values. Your mission may include transparency, integrity, fun, or passion. Whatever the vision, ensure you’re successful by working hard to reflect it every day.
- See what you’re doing well, and grow. Rather than starting from scratch, ask employees what they like about the current work environment. What do they love? What changes would they recommend?
- If applicable, comb through online reviews to see where your team excels. You may find that clients have returned to your location based on the team’s willingness to go above and beyond, or have cut ties due to bickering between staff.
- Recruit like-minded leaders. Longevity can depend on the leadership team, and you can earn loyalty from employees if management lives by the culture that got them to accept the job in the first place. Ask values-based questions during interviews to learn how they manage challenges and cultivate collaboration. Hiring executives who are a good match for the company culture improves leadership retention, and has positive repercussions among the employees they manage.
- Give back. Dedicate time and person-power to a project that’s relevant to your core values. Host a fundraising banquet, ask for all-hands-on-deck for a city park gardening project, or host a reverse Trick-or-Treat event that encourages people to donate non-perishable food to organizations.
7. Go beyond the standard employee benefits.
While a 401K and employer-sponsored healthcare plan are starting points, the modern workforce puts focus on other priorities too, which can help prevent employee burnout.
- Build financial confidence. Mortgages, rent, car loans, student debt: Living paycheck to paycheck is all-too-common today, and emergency funds and retirement plans often seem out of reach for even the thriftiest individuals. Reduce money-related stress with free financial counseling sessions for staff. Hosting regular themed sessions or providing ongoing opportunities for individual meetings can teach skills that lessen financial worry and contribute to overall well being.
- Support families — not just employees. Paid family leave for both mothers and fathers, daycare cost benefits, and scheduling flexibility can reduce workday-related stressors. Organize a babysitting cooperative so parents can have the chance to relax without finding — and paying for — a sitter. Free or discounted event tickets, amusement park admission, or museum passes encourage working parents to enjoy downtime with family.
- Create a positive atmosphere. Trapp Family Lodge provides a free staff meal for each 8-hour shift and allows an annual free stay with dinner for each staff member and a guest. Exercise reduces stress, so employees benefit from free access to the resort’s ski trails, pool, and fitness center.
- Offer mental health resources. They can range from companywide yoga and relaxation classes to the offering of mental health days.
Additionally, you can open up space for staff use in creative ways.
- Host a monthly cooking class on-site so staff can create and share incredible meals.
- Allow employees to rent spaces at a reduced cost.
- Create designated, off-hours, multi-use spaces for staff who need to study or need a distraction-free space to work on a personal project.
8. Support work-life balance for all staff.
Vacations won’t solve employee burnout, but they’re a step toward creating healthy habits. Rather than a use-it-or-lose-it PTO policy, allow a limited amount of vacation time to carry over. Some employers have implemented mandatory minimum vacation time — all staff must take at least one vacation per year.
Employees may feel as though they’re unable to take a vacation — they’re concerned about the workload upon their return, feel as though co-workers disapprove of the time off, or worry that they’ll seem to lack dedication. The leadership team must set an example by taking time off themselves, and training and staffing with employee vacations in mind.
Ensure that time off means time off. In a culture of connectedness, it can be difficult to disconnect. Encourage employees to set up auto-response messages directing people to the appropriate contact while they're away. Don’t contact employees when they’re away. And reinstate weekends — whether they land on a Saturday and Sunday, or in the middle of the week — by keeping business at work rather than carrying it home.
Additionally, it's crucial to prevent overworking your employees. Just because a certain team member is a so-called workaholic who seems to arrive early and leave late every day doesn't mean it's not taking a toll. If an employee feels the need to constantly work overtime, take the necessary steps to assess their workload and see if they feel pressured to remain working beyond normal business hours or if they just simply prefer working more hours than most. Productivity review templates can help with this.
9. Allow the opportunity for staff to provide feedback — and respond to it.
Show interest in what each team member has to say. Have an open door so staff can share feedback, or allow anonymous suggestions. Be clear that the assessment can relate to the employee’s satisfaction, the effectiveness of the leadership team, ideas for future strategy, or even your own performance.
Waiting for staff to come to you can be the difference between solving the problem and losing the staff member. If a top employee has missed the sales goal three months in a row, reach out. Be honest and transparent about your reasons and seek a solution for all involved. Perhaps the goal is too lofty — or it’s related to something outside of work.
Regular engagement and other employee surveys can shed light on areas in need of improvement. They’re also a tool for improving morale, increasing satisfaction, and preventing employee burnout.
10. Recognize staff with rewards and praise.
Stellar work comes from engaged employees. Provide rewards and incentives for top-notch performance, whether you’re acknowledging the customer-facing team for praise received from customers or celebrating your group sales team for the best quarter yet. Sincere, timely recognition helps employees feel valued. Don’t keep it a secret, either: Let others know about jobs well done or major milestones.
Be sure that you're not just celebrating employees' successes, but that you're actually celebrating the employee themselves. Remember: Individuals are not their job. There’s more to the team than numbers. Each employee has interests outside of the job — so add some fun scheduled days and create additional opportunities to get together, no charts allowed. Non-work activities and incentives remind employees that you know their full value.
- Make a big deal of birthdays with a monthly all-staff birthday celebration to honor anyone with a birthday during the month.
- Treat staff to an annual company dinner outside of the usual holiday gathering.
- Implement summer BBQ outings with kayaks and more at a favorite lakeside retreat.
- Take your collective knowledge on the road by organizing a trivia team.
- Give athletics a shot and form a sports league that meets regularly — designate teams or switch off for each game.
- Surprise employees with unexpected pizza, coffee, or ice cream breaks.
11. Provide shift breaks — and encourage employees to take them.
Taking a lunch break or short breaks can boost focus and improve productivity, but a staggering number of people skip breaks altogether. The reason? To catch up on work. To encourage breaks, make them more tempting.
- Provide a well-stocked snack cabinet with healthy, energy-boosting favorites.
- Stock the break room with coffee and treats. Provide comfortable seats where staff want to relax and unwind.
- Begin a paperback exchange so employees can get lost in a book while they break — and bring it home if they just can’t put it down.
- Schedule food truck stops to give staff a reason to step away from the desk.
This is a little bit more difficult for work-from-home employees, but a regular reminder that short breaks are encouraged can go a long way.
Cultivate a lower-stress workplace and take the steps to prevent employee burnout today!
While no workplace is stress-free, these strategies can help you lower the rate of employee burnout. Next, learn how to work remotely with some work-from-home tips and tricks.