Employee burnout – what is it and how to prevent it

Stress levels are high right now – most kids have returned to school, workers are preparing to head back into the office, and the UK government has not long declared a recession. 

We’ve spoken many times before about stress in the workplace and the negative implications it can have on an employee – and the whole business, for that matter.  

That’s because, according to the Job Demands-Resources model by Bakker and Demerouti (JD-R Model), our job provides many demands and resources that affect our state of wellbeing 

An imbalance between the two can result in stress. But a prolonged state of stress can cause an employee to burnout.  

What is employee burnout? 

Although burnout isn’t a medical diagnosis, it’s described as being in state of emotional, mental and often physical exhaustion brought on by repeated or prolonged stress.  

Those who have burnout might suffer from a feeling of dread about work and frequent feelings of cynicism, anger or irritably. Whilst those in healthcare professions, like doctors, may notice dwindling compassion towards those in their care.  

Any way you look at it, burnout has toxic consequences. Organisations will see decreased productivity from their staff, chronic exhaustion from their employees and an increase in workforce turnover.  

What are the causes of burnout?  

Burnout isn’t just due to the result of working long hours or juggling too many tasks – although both have some role to play. Employee burnout can result from physical, organisational, psychological or social aspects of the job, including:  

  • Work-life imbalance  

Quality work-life balance allows employees to clearly separate work from home. It also helps lower stress levels. However, both have slowly been merging into one thanks to the coronavirus epidemic forcing many workers to juggle jobs, parenting and caring for the elderly whilst keeping up their day job.  

  • Lack of control 

Feeling like you lack autonomy, or an inability to influence decisions that affect your job can take a toll on your wellbeing. This might include your schedule (or lack of)the feeling of being ‘on call’, not knowing what your workload looks like, or the lack of resources required to do your job. And now, thanks to Coronavirus, it’s not just inside the workplace where control is an issue. We’re at the beginning of a recession, every day the media is rife with news of job losses and the UK is still gradually easing out of lockdown – all of which can contribute to this ‘lack of control’. 

  • Unclear job expectations 

If leaders aren’t clear on what they expect from their employees, then it’s unclear to workers on how to succeed. At the beginning of lockdown organisations (and staff) needed to find new ways to do things.  The priority was on delivery and many have continued to work along these lines.  But, once the immediate crisis passed and a new way of working was established, did organisations take the time to review with staff what would be short term changes and what’s here to stay? Have there been discussions about what success looks like post COVID and beyond? This level of uncertainty could leave workers at a higher risk of burnout.   

  • Unreasonable workloads 

This accounts for more than a third of the root causes of burnout*. In today’s workplace climate, organisations have rapidly adapted to more nimble ways of working, with employees operating across a number of different teams under different leaders whilst working from home. This could result in mangers not having an oversight or full understanding of what their employee has been tasked with.   

How to prevent burnout 

As workers become increasingly tied to their smartphonesjuggle working from home and adapting to this ‘new normal’, employee burnout may become more widely spread.  

Here’s some thoughts on how to prevent that from happening:  

  • Enforce a work life balance 

Help employees claim back their work-life balance and put some proper safeguarding measures in place. Whether that includes limiting the amount of days holiday staff can carry over or leading by example– like making sure managers leave the office (or virtual office) on time. 

  • Ensure proper support is in place 

A strong leadership team is a key component of any good business. Check in with team members more frequently than usual. Ask them how they are doing and make sure you build those interpersonal relationships. Consider setting up a vehicle just for ‘watercooler’ chat. 

  • Communication is key  

Dedicate some time to regular updates using a range of communication methods. It helps foster trust and reduce anxiety levels. Compelling, effective and open communication is key to sharing and developing that passion with a team. So don’t overlook the basics!  

Here at Work Psychology Group we know that each organisational issue is unique to you. With our unique blend of experience, we develop innovative and practical workplace solutions based on the latest research and tailored to you. Get it touch or sign up to our quarterly newsletter