Employee Burnout and Fatigue: Causes and Cures

Employee burnout: it’s sadly on the rise in Australia, thanks in no small measure, to two years of living with COVID. Some industries (and job types) are particularly affected right now – such as workers in hospitality and healthcare.

But in the corporate world, things aren’t much better.

The incidence of workers asking for mental health leave days have been consistently increasing over the past two years. (The silver lining? The pandemic has achieved broad acknowledgement that worker’s mental health is something to take seriously).

So how did we get here? And how do we resolve this crisis?

Today, we’ve taken a deep dive into the factors that cause employee burnout. And we’ve looked at strategies your business can adopt to help workers heal, and move forward as stronger, happier and healthier versions of themselves.

But First… What is Employee Burnout?

The term ‘employee burnout’ was actually coined in the 1970’s by American psychologist, Herbert Freudenberger. The term was devised to describe…

 […] the outcomes of severe stress as well as high ideals in professionals who tend to sacrifice their needs to help others.
In short, Freudenberger defines it as “a state of mental and physical exhaustion caused by one’s professional life.”

Burnout can be identified via a wide range of symptoms. So recognising it can be difficult. There are a number of common tell-tale signs that you can look for. These include:

  • Mental, physical and emotional exhaustion
  • Mood swings or differences in mood to normal circumstances
  • Isolation from peers
  • Accidents or unusually sloppy work
  • A rise in absenteeism
  • Low level worker engagement: a lack of care or concern for the work at hand
  • Unfinished projects or tasks
  • General dissatisfaction with the workplace, management or work to be done

Below is a simple reference tool which can be used to undertake a mental checklist if you suspect a worker may be in the throes of burnout:

Employee Burnout

Recognising the symptoms of burnout isn’t immediate; it’s typically a pattern that forms over time. And like anything that involves suffering, pain or hardship, prevention is better than cure. So, let’s take a look at the causes of employee burnout: situations you need to avoid in your business.

Major Triggers for Employee Burnout

Poor Employee Recognition:

  • Workers delivering big hours or big results with little or no recognition from management
  • Employees develop a sense that they’re not valued

Impossible Job Demands:

  • Constant multi-tasking, inability to get a task complete
  • Overload of requirements placed on an individual or team
  • A sense of injustice develops
  • Too few employees to carry the workload

Isolation:

  • Even when operating in a team, workers can still feel isolated
  • Poor management practices lead to this situation
  • Lack of team building, or collaboration is typically the cause
  • If managers don’t appreciate the ideas or contribution of a worker, isolation can occur

Toxic Peers or Management:

  • People that are often (or sometimes) upset, or losing their cool, can have a seriously negative affect on others (be they managers or team members)
  • Shouting, reprimands and put-downs are all triggers for burnout
  • Favouritism, poor communications, a lack of transparency and siding with the same people are just a few instigators for a toxic work environment
  • If toxic team members aren’t managed well, the source of burnout remains alive

Sub-Standard Rewards:

  • If the business doesn’t pay market rates, it won’t illicit the best from its workers
  • Workers will have a sense of being undervalued
  • Poor sense of self in the workplace is a major cause of burnout
  • Low motivation and zero company loyalty will result, which are also signs of employee burnout

Wrong Person, Wrong Job, Wrong Team, Wrong Company:

  • Poor hiring practices lead to poor hiring decisions
  • If the wrong person is appointed to a team – say, they have inadequate skills or they’re a poor culture fit – the chance of burnout for everyone involved, is high
  • Technical skills and proficiency as well as personality types must be considered when hiring into teams
  • Additionally, if a new hire is reluctant to work in the office with team members who do so willingly, you could be heading towards a recruitment disaster. And more burnout for your workers

Boredom:

  • Most people know what they’re getting into when they take on a new job. There are elements of excitement and boredom in all roles. But if the latter outweighs the former, you’re in trouble
  • Repetitive tasks can be mind-numbing, boring and exhausting. They can also lead to employee burnout
  • If the burden of boring tasks isn’t shared across a team (or outsourced), the risk of employee burnout is very high

 

If you haven’t been able to avoid employee burnout in your business, here are a number of proven strategies to get your people back into a happy working groove.

Key Strategies to Address Employee Burnout

Step 1: Educate the People

  • Make sure everyone in your organisation is aware of burnout: what it is, how it presents and how you, as an employer, are committed to avoiding burnout for your workers
  • Educate workers about what you’re doing as an organisation to address burnout
  • Make this education a series – not a once-off. Reiteration of message, and a commitment to your workers’ wellbeing will land positively
  • Model the organisation’s commitment to avoiding employee burnout, into the company education materials and culture. Make it part of the fabric of the organisation

Step 2: Attentive Leadership

  • Business leadership need to take a big role here. Primarily, they need to have an accurate perspective on the workplace culture and climate
  • Leadership needs to be attuned to employee’s needs, behaviours, concerns
  • Making workers feel valued, listened to, and understood in an authentic way is critical
  • Active listening strategies are a proven technique for fostering successful relationships in this context

Step 3: Communication

  • The business must establish a robust communications plan, that fits with different departments, job types and personalities
  • Leaders need to tailor communications to suit the individuals in their teams for optimum effectiveness
  • Communications pathways need to be varied too: more meetings (and Zoom meetings for remote workers), informal coffee catchups, company and departmental newsletters, team, and individual WhatsApp communications
  • By providing multiple opportunities to communicate, workers will find the right avenue to voice concerns, that suits their needs
  • Honest feedback – that isn’t sugar-coated – is imperative

Step 4: Encourage Self-Care

  • Organisational leadership can help employee burnout to a point. Beyond that, the worker needs to undertake steps for self-care and emotional management for their wellbeing
  • The business can encourage workers to practice mindfulness, or offer company-sponsored meditation or yoga courses
  • Encouraging workers to utilise mental health days whilst ensuring these can be used without prejudice
  • Allowing them to bring stress relieving solutions to the office – like their dog – will be a welcome idea

Step 5: It’s a Long Game

  • The process of managing employee burnout takes time
  • The many factors that go towards preventing burnout require consistent attention and tweaking – including remuneration, benefits, and career pathing
  • Ideally, the business will take employee’s wellbeing into workforce and business planning, as a goal to be achieved now. And to be sustained in the long term

And Finally…

Sometimes it may seem like burnout just happens out of nowhere. But really, it often builds slowly, until it reaches tipping point. There are multiple sources of burnout, both internal and external, and sometimes there’s a relationship between the two that causes burnout for one employee but not for another. It is important to create a culture of talking about these things openly, honestly, and frequently. Reducing burnout requires a commitment from the organisation and the individual, where both need to shift mindset. And remember, reducing and preventing future burnout takes time. There’s no quick fix.

 

As one of the world’s leading providers of contingent worker management solutionsCXC is well positioned to optimise all elements of your contingent workforce strategy. With operations in more than 50 countries across five continents and decades of experience, we can assist with every aspect of your program.

If you are interested in discussing our learnings and would like to find out more about how we can help, please contact us here.

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