Business leaders and employees have been navigating one of the most stressful times in their careers since the pandemic began. Economic downturns, mass resignations, employee shortages, supply chain issues, radical workplace changes, constant uncertainties, and never-ending anxiety and exhaustion have led to extreme burnout in the business world.

While work-related tension and fatigue is not new phenomenon, it has been amplified by the pandemic. In fact, a recent survey by The Hartford, a leading provider of employee benefits and absence management, found that 68 percent of female workers in the U.S. and 52 percent of male workers are experiencing burnout at work.

And because workplace burnout can significantly impact business growth, productivity, and retention, leaders can’t afford to ignore this growing problem. As a result, it is imperative to not only understand what causes burnout but to develop strategies to manage this issue.

Grasp the Signs and Causes of Burnout

According to the World Health Organization, burnout is emotional and physical exhaustion brought on by unmanaged chronic workplace stress. The mental signs include feelings of depression, sadness, frustration, apathy, helplessness, indifference, disassociation, exhaustion, and irritability. Physical signs include headache, fatigue, body aches, appetite changes, sleep problems, and gastrointestinal issues.

The common causes of burnout in the workplace include a lack of control over workload and schedule, as well as stressful office dynamics, unclear job expectations, chaos, lack of social support, long work hours, heavy workloads, and a lack of work-life balance.

tackling burnout

Understand the Effects and Methods of Addressing Burnout

In addition to decreased productivity, the inability to make decisions, a loss of motivation, and increased absenteeism, employees who are experiencing burnout are more likely to look for a new job.

Moreover, according to The Hartford study, of the employees who are extremely likely to look for a new job, 55 percent say they “always feel burned out,” and 16 percent say they “often feel burned out.” The survey found that the top five factors inspiring employees to initiate a job search included:

  • Better salary or wages: 74%
  • Career growth/promotion: 44%
  • Attractive benefits: 38%
  • Flexible schedule: 38%
  • Strong workplace culture: 38%

“The pandemic has changed the workplace – including the hiring landscape,” explains Jonathan Bennett, head of employee benefits at The Hartford. “The need for flexibility in the workplace has never been greater as the lines between work and home continue to be blurred amid the pandemic. Fostering an open, inclusive work environment that provides flexibility is an important step in addressing burnout and helping employees remain productive at work.”

Additionally, The Hartford’s study found that employees want their employers to address burnout by offering additional paid time off, a four-day workweek, remote work options, mental health days, and a lighter workload.

Reevaluate Employee Benefits and Perks

Because each organization is unique, it is vital to find the right benefits and perks for your employees. Collecting feedback via surveys, emails, and focus groups can help you figure out how to improve the workplace experience. Since the pandemic began, many companies have found it beneficial to adjust benefits to include virtual mental health support, casual dress codes, extra days off, and flex scheduling.

Encourage Work-Life Balance and Time Off

Time off and work-life balance are critical to well-being, productivity, and the bottom line. Consequently, it is important to take time off, which includes refraining from checking emails, voicemails, and messaging apps.

One of the most effective ways to encourage this behavior is to create a company culture that embraces this mindset. When leaders use their days off and completely unplug, they model this behavior for all employees and motivate direct reports to follow suit. The best thing you can do for your employees is to develop a workplace culture that supports the idea that having other priorities outside of the office is a positive and true necessity for everyone.

Promote a Positive Mental Health Culture

It is possible to reverse the effects of burnout through a strong mental health strategy. To achieve this, business leaders should consider the following:

  • Develop ways to decrease overwhelming workloads
  • Establish new workplace policies to create greater flexibility for employees
  • Consistently promote your company’s Employee Assistance Program and beef up this program if necessary
  • Encourage senior managers to talk to employees about the importance of mental health breaks and boundary setting
  • Develop programs that offer exercise, meditation, and yoga at work
  • Communicate the need to use all vacation time
  • Create a culture that encourages open communication and understand the need to express concerns, feelings, and emotions

Revisit the Idea of the Traditional Workday

The traditional 9 to 5 workday is a thing of the past. Instead, many companies are moving to flexible schedules within core working hours. This ensures a set period of time where employees are available for meetings and collaboration sessions, but can develop their own schedule within this timeframe.

Reinventing the workday not only empowers employees to work when it suits them, but also makes employees feel independent and reduces stress. In fact, some companies are developing “no meeting days” or “no meeting afternoons” where employees can work without interruptions or distractions. In addition, this fosters a great deal of trust between managers and employees, which helps to increase productivity and engagement.

“Ownership of tasks and their outcomes–not clocked time–are what matter. The rest will work itself out,” explains Kevin Knopp, CEO of 908 Devices. “You can’t relegate individuals to stick to a 9-to-5 clock. The focus needs to be flipped. Individuals with a sense of task ownership get their job done more efficiently and work better with their teammates, while respecting their time constraints and being understanding of their team members.”

Combat Burnout via Key Capabilities

To understand burnout, meeting effectiveness, collaboration, and productivity, Dimensional Research, and Webex conducted a global survey of business leaders and employees. The study found that fatigue from video meetings and burnout levels have heavily increased since employees began working from their homes. In fact, of the survey respondents:

  • 96 percent believe that specialized technology can help reduce burnout
  • 88 percent feel that meeting-free days would help them be more productive

To decrease the growing feelings of burnout, respondents also suggested taking work breaks (52 percent) and changing their daily schedule to improve work-life balance (47 percent).

When asked specifically about tactics to improve collaboration, 97 percent believe that advanced collaboration features would make them feel more included in video meetings and could help boost meeting productivity.

And 49 percent of respondents believe they could enhance collaboration by removing distractions at home, which includes eradicating unwanted noise. In addition, 39 percent suggested adding more conferencing devices and digital whiteboards (32 percent) to their workspace.

With the pandemic continuing to drag on, it doesn’t look like the stress and uncertainty of COVID are going away any time soon. As a result, do not wait until it’s too late. Employee burnout is only getting worse—and it must be addressed today.

In the words of Suzie Finch, a recruitment and HR expert, and the founder of The Career Improvement Club, “Once an employee has lost the motivation, drive, and trust of their employer, it’s very hard to get it back.”