Workers Burnout – Causes and Prevention

Burnout is not an unfamiliar concept to most people leaders. However in the past year the rate at which workers are burning out has increased dramatically. While before individual experiences of worker burnout could be triaged, people experience teams are now looking for holistic approaches and practices to manage what has gone from cyclical to constant burnout.

Why are people burning out? And how can we prevent it?

1) Lack of control over work: 

Feeling like you have no control over your work and life has proven to increase stress levels and can therefore lead to workers burnout.  

Present frequent leadership opportunities within their role or at work. Leaders have shown lower cortisol levels in correlation with their level of control so presenting opportunities for people to lead (in areas of their interest) could help them avoid feeling a lack of control. Listening to employee needs as a people team can also help them feel in control of their work environments.

2) Unclear job expectations:

When asked what the most stressful part of “change at work” was, 31 % of employees cited "unclear expectations from supervisors." When job expectations are not clear employees tend to be less confident in their abilities and less motivated to do their work leading to workers burnout.

Cure: Overcommunicate! Whether its reviewing a task multiple times to confirm understanding or creating detailed job/project descriptions, having clear expectations can help employees prevent burnout AND improve their quality of work.

3) Dysfunctional workplace dynamics:

Around half of the employees in a recent study said they quit their jobs because of a bad manager. Surrounding employees with toxic environments or leadership can be detrimental to team health.

Cure: 360 Reviews of leadership give employees a chance to honestly evaluate their relationships with their managers. These anonymous reviews can also inform what manager training is needed and inform hiring practices for new managers on your team.

4) Extremes of an activity:

When a job is either very monotonous or highly chaotic, employees often struggle to retain constant focus or energy. This struggle and exertion causes fatigue, one of the most prominent symptoms of workers burnout.  

Cure: Try and diversify an employee's role by adding a variety of interpersonal and intrapersonal tasks. Social and volunteer committees can also break the pattern of a job type.

5) Lack of social support:

Isolation (a common phenomenon during the pandemic) can lead to higher levels of stress. Feeling a lack of support from one’s work environment can lead to disconnection and disengagement, both leader to workers burnout.

Cure: Check-ins are one of the most important ways to ensure employees feel socially supported at work. Other channels include employee volunteer opportunities, socials, and hackdays or companywide workshops where employees get to work with different departments and feel closer to their work envoirnment.

6) Work-life inbalance:

When pressure from work or workload start affecting one’s energy levels and time with family, it causes stress, isolation from non-work relationships, and workers burnout.

Cure: Shift the narrative from work-life balance to work-life engagement. Giving employees a chance to engage with their wellbeing outside of work (through time with family, use of EAPs, PTO, etc.) the more likely they are to be engaged and happy at work.

7) Time & Workload pressure:

It can be easy as leadership to overlook the time needed to learn and complete tasks as well as the workload they are assigning to their teams. Time and workload pressure can lead to a feeling of reduced control as well as work-life balance.  

Cure: Build measures for time and complexity of tasks into your project management (or support managers with the resources to do so). This way managers can easily gauge capacity and communicate new work accordingly.

8) Lack of growth opportunity:

Lack of growth opportunity can cause the under-challenged subtype of workers burnout. This demotivates and disengages people that value these opportunities at work and can lead them to workers burnout  

Cure: Focus on creating a remote/hybrid Learning and Development strategy to empower employees to learn wherever they are working. Growth opportunities within the company can also provide room for employees to grow into leaders.

If you’re team is looking for an easy way to identify and address burnout, check out mello’s 21 day free trial for our slack integrated wellbeing check-ins.

Gavin Goh
October 22, 2021
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