Burnout in the workplace is something we know all too well; we’ve heard about it, we’ve experienced it and we’ve seen it. According to the 2015 Workplace Index conducted by Staples Advantage, 53 percent of employees feel overworked and burnt out. Because this is so detrimental to both the individual and the organization, employee burnout is an issue that needs to be recognized and taken seriously. While preventing employee burnout may be a challenge, knowing how to take action and having an effective solution in place will be beneficial for everyone. To do this, you must know the signs, causes, and possible solutions that you can discuss with your team.

What Is Employee Burnout?

Employee burnout can be thought of as a series of cognitive and emotional reactions that an employee goes through as a result of job stressors and general life experiences. This psychological process can leave the employee feeling incompetent, doubtful, unmotivated and tired.

Burnout is a process that develops over a period of time, prohibiting normal functionality on a personal and professional level. Don’t mistake burnout for stress, as the difference is a matter of degree. The earlier you recognize the signs, the better able you will be to prevent burnout.

What Causes Burnout?

Burnout can be caused by both personal and organizational conditions. Organizational conditions include:

  • A lack of clear cut expectations and job responsibilities
  • A lack of employee cohesiveness
  • A lack of recognition
  • Outdated policies and procedures

Those four organizational conditions contribute to employee burnout, but personal characteristics are usually present to actually cause employee burnout, such as:

  • Unrealistic expectations of the company
  • Unrealistic goals

An employee who wants to “do it all” will naturally become burnt out when they realize they can’t accomplish everything on their own.

Signs of Burnout

According to the Maslach Burnout Inventory—burnout is a three-dimensional syndrome made up of exhaustion, cynicism, and inefficacy.

Often the first sign of burnout is feeling emotionally exhausted from work; this feeling may manifest itself in a perceived loss of motivation. An employee might mention feeling drained, over the edge or at the end of their rope. In private, they may dread coming to work and putting in hours that they’d rather spend somewhere else.

For an employee who once loved their job and exuded enthusiasm for learning new things, feelings of emotional exhaustion may come somewhat unexpectedly. This occurs because the creeping feelings of burnout are often ignored. The manager may recognize the employee’s change in demeanor and work performance, and assume they need to take a vacation.

The manager’s perceived lack of interest in finding a solution to burnout causes the employee to cope by withdrawing from co-workers. He or she becomes cynical of relationships with others in the workplace, feels numb and aloof, and loses interest in the organization as a whole.

When a manager exhibits burnout, this can be exponentially more harmful to the company. The feelings of cynicism and lack of interest can trickle down to subordinates, changing the entire environment of the organization and aiding in a lack of productivity.

The final aspect of burnout is a feeling of failure. When people start a new career, they generally feel excited about what they can contribute and how they can grow within the organization. These personal expectations may not always be met, and here’s why:

  • Inadequate resources to perform one’s job to his or her fullest potential
  • Constraints placed on the employee by certain policies
  • High expectations that cannot be achieved due to a lack of training
  • A lack of positive feedback when it’s needed

An employee who isn’t reaching his or her goals won’t feel a sense of personal accomplishment. When combined with the other feelings of burnout, an employee may lose hope for the entire organization, when in actuality, the organization might be the component that needs improvement.

What Can Managers Do?

While employees can try to cope with the feelings of burnout, this can be harmful to the organization and the individual. The only way to truly prevent burnout is to implement organizational change and education, to be discussed first among employers and managers, and then with staff.

  • Keep reasonable work hours. Overtime is necessary in some cases, but if an employee is working 70 hours a week, it might be time to take a closer look.
  • Create a supportive work environment. Try team building activities to encourage socialization and a sense of community. Managers should set an example for supportive behavior such as listening and offering positive advice, and employees should be rewarded for doing the same. Gossip should not be tolerated.
  • Define concrete roles. Ensure that each team member knows their job duties and expectations. One employee should not be trying to take on everyone’s tasks.
  • Be realistic when assigning tasks. Be sure that everyone has an equal amount of work to prevent feelings of being overwhelmed.
  • Provide feedback, especially if it’s positive. Make a point to congratulate a team member for a job well done; don’t wait until an employee review to say, “Good job!”
  • Provide acknowledgments, rewards, and promotions. This should be done based on what the organization thinks is fair.
  • Educate. Provide information on employee burnout so it’s easily recognizable, and the actions the company will take to help with the situation.

Employee burnout can have a negative impact on an organization, including increased absences and a lack of productivity. Policies and procedures should be revamped, if needed, to be able to effectively address the issue when it arises.