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Employee Burnout 101 – An Introduction for Employers

By Jeanette Coleman, SPHR & SHRM-SCP on Oct 28, 2022
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Employee burnout – for some it’s an often-heard buzzword, but for many, it is a reality. When you think of the concept, a frazzled, hard-at-work, stressed-out professional spending long hours at their desk may come to mind. Unfortunately, the signs of employee burnout aren’t always obvious or clear-cut. Especially in the new era of remote work, the slow build to burnout can fly under the radar.

In part one of this four-part series, I’ll provide a general introduction to burnout, including what it is, how it affects employees and how it could impact your business if not caught in time. 

Later in this series, learn about the causes and signs of burnout, prevention strategies and how it impacts the remote workforce.

how to determine if an employee is burned out

What Is Burnout?

Although we may use the term colloquially, burnout is not just a mood or temporary feeling. Rather, “burnout” is actually included in the 11th Revision of the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as an “occupational phenomenon.” It is defined by the ICD-11 as a “syndrome” that results from chronic, unsuccessfully managed workplace stress. It is characterized by three factors:

  • Exhaustion/energy depletion.
  • A feeling of mental distance from, negativity toward, or cynicism surrounding one’s job.
  • Reduced efficacy at work.

According to the WHO (the World Health Organization), employee burnout is not just an occupational phenomenon, it’s a mental health issue.

Addressing Mental Health in the Workplace in 2022

How Does Burnout Affect Employees?

1. Raises rates of clinical depression and anxiety

According to a 2019 study published in the Frontiers in Psychology Journal, there is a significant relationship between burnout and both depression and anxiety. Just as your organization provides health insurance for physical well-being, it’s important to provide employees with resources to manage their mental health, as well.

2. Causes employees to loosen their ties with the company

Compared to pre-pandemic levels, employee burnout has gotten worse, not better, and it is especially felt among those who work remotely, possibly due to having a harder time “unplugging” from their jobs. Indeed, a major job listing website, looked at employee burnout data collected from 1,500 U.S. employees in January 2020 (pre-pandemic) and compared it to data gathered one year later. 

The data found, in January 2020, 43% of respondents were suffering from burnout. One year later, in March 2021, the number of employees reporting burnout increased to 52%. When it comes to age-specific groups, Millennials and Gen Z experienced burnout at a much greater rate than Baby Boomers, with between 57-58% of younger employees indicating burnout in March 2021, compared to 31% of Baby Boomers.

Keeping these numbers in perspective, now consider a study by the American Psychological Association that found employees experiencing burnout are 2.6 times as likely as their counterparts to actively seek out a new job.

3. Crushes passion and ingenuity

Ninety-one percent of respondents in a Deloitte survey said when they have an “unmanageable amount of stress or frustration,” the quality of their work is negatively impacted. The study also examined whether employees who were more passionate about their jobs were less likely to be affected by burnout, and discovered, in fact, that this was not the case. Rather, of the 87% of those surveyed who stated they had a passion for their current job, 64% reported being frequently stressed despite their passion.

burnout at work five burnout busters

How Does Employee Burnout Affect Employers?

1. Slows down production

Burnout can have serious negative long-term consequences on employees, but it also hurts employers. According to the Harvard Business Review, burnout is “estimated to cost the U.S. economy more than $500 billion dollars and, each year, 550 million workdays are lost due to stress on the job.”

2. Causes turnover

Burnout is a key cause of resignations and high turnover rates. In the wake of the Great Resignation, (where record millions of employees quit their jobs from mid-2021 to early 2022) employers are wondering why employees are so fed up with their jobs. Burnout may be to blame. 

In fact, the Harvard Business Review found that resignation rates are higher among employees in industries that recently experienced extreme increases in demand and subsequently experienced burnout. This includes healthcare workers, including doctors and nurses, and those who work for businesses that require employees to be at a specific location and for a set time when goods and services are directly exchanged, including those who work in retail, restaurants, airlines and concert venues. 

RELATED: DOL Reminds Employers FMLA Allows Leave for Mental Health Treatment >>

3. Raises your company’s medical costs

Employee burnout (and unmanaged prolonged stress, in general) can cause serious health effects. According to the Mayo Clinic, employee burnout can cause the following:

    • Fatigue
    • Insomnia
    • Sadness, anger or irritability
    • Alcohol or substance misuse
    • Heart disease
    • High blood pressure
    • Type 2 diabetes
    • Increased vulnerability to illnesses

Many of these consequences, including diabetes, heart disease and high blood pressure, can lead to higher volume and costs of insurance claims. If employee burnout becomes a problem but is not addressed, your company’s future medical costs could rise as a result.

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Axcet HR Solutions: Your Partner for All Things Employee Relations

Interested in shifting your workplace culture to address and prevent employee burnout, but unsure of where to start? Axcet is here to help. Our employee relations experts will work with your organization to help you identify pitfalls, pain points and strategies for future success. Schedule a time to speak with our experienced team today >>

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