Dec 17, 2020

Paying Attention to Employee burnout

Employee burnout has been a subject of debate for years. In 2019 WHO updated its definition of Burnout to be “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed.” 

It is characterized by three dimensions:

  • feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;
  • increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one's job; and
  • reduced professional efficacy.

Although burnout is typically associated with medical professionals, first responders, and business executives, it can actually show up in any profession. Employee burnout can stem from working in isolation, balancing household and work challenges all at once, or trying not to appear “weak”. 

365 toolbox talk topics

Identifying Employee Burnout

Expecting employees to convey burnout may be optimistic. Many are not content speaking about what they think is a personal difficult, especially when they might "just be thankful they have a job."

Only a small number of employees confided about their mental health to HR for fear of being perceived as unproductive or losing their jobs.

But if organizations keep their ear to the ground, they will find trouble brewing among employees and can mitigate any risks that show up when not addressed properly. 

This would be a great topic to address in a toolbox talk. An open discussion on how workers are handling workplace tasks on a regular basis helps alleviate the stress being placed on performance. 

The Mayo Clinic suggests these questions be asked to find out potential employee burn out: 

  • Have you become cynical or critical at work?
  • Do you drag yourself to work and have trouble getting started?
  • Have you become irritable or impatient with co-workers, customers or clients?
  • Do you lack the energy to be consistently productive?
  • Do you find it hard to concentrate?
  • Do you lack satisfaction from your achievements?
  • Do you feel disillusioned about your job?
  • Are you using food, drugs or alcohol to feel better or to simply not feel?
  • Have your sleep habits changed?

Statics have shown 23% of workers have felt burned out more often than not while an additional 44% reported feeling burned out sometimes.  

Although there are no OSHA regulations around employee burnout or policies for dealing with workers affected by burnout, studies suggest that employee burnout has the potential to impact many aspects of work performance and safety. 

Burnout employees have less awareness of their surroundings and struggle to maintain workplace safety practices. This can result in 

  • Misusing equipment
  • Delaying emergency responses
  • Poor driving
  • Employee fighting
  • Issues caused by getting behind on work-related tasks.

If left unaddressed, a burned-out employee has the potential to be an unsafe worker which could lead to a workplace accident that affects other employees who suffer injuries.

How You Can Support Burned-out Employees

Organizations that have managed to stay on top of things identified this and began reinforcing vacations to combat burnout, amongst other measures such as:

  1. Add a day off to a long weekend. Ask your employees to take Friday off before a long weekend, specifically to address burnout. 
  2. Ask employees to share leaves with their co-workers. This can come as a relief to many employees anxious about the pandemic and its impact on their health.
  3. If it's too much, try different innovations in small groups. Like Friday afternoons off. It can help to take a break and refresh over the weekend. Such a benefit once or twice a month can help employees recharge and stay productive and focused.
  4. Assist employees with childcare challenges. Parents will now be dealing with children returning to the virtual classroom. Incorporate things like a flexible schedule, a compressed workweek, leaves, and protected time where they are not interrupted by their co-workers.

What works for other organizations may not work for yours and vice versa. It's time to open up the conversation and learn the difficulties employees have to manage. Offering support for their most pressing challenges and dealing with mental health concerns is the only meaningful way to support them.