The Employee Burnout Epidemic

Posted by Matt Manning on 2 February 2017

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Any good manager knows that their team cannot perform at a consistently high level if they are tired and overworked. And yet, a number of recent studies show that employee burnout is a significant contributing factor affecting staff turnover, morale, and employee engagement.

A recent article from Fast Company discusses this alarming trend, and offers a number of compelling statistics.

One particularly impactful study comes from Kronos, a workforce management software company, and Future Workplace. They surveyed 614 U.S. human resources professionals at organizations with 100 to over 2,500 employees. They found that 46% of respondents blame burnout for up to half of their staff quitting each year.

These HR managers and executives believe that three factors are contributing to all that burnout:

  • Unfair compensation (41%)
  • Unreasonable workload (32%)
  • Too much overtime or after-hours work (32%)

Furthermore, the survey analysis went on to find larger organizations are more likely to have exhausted employees. Fifteen percent of HR leaders at companies with more than 2,500 employees say burnout causes 50% or more annual turnover, as opposed to 10% turnover at smaller firms with less than 500 on staff.

At Inward, we vehemently believe that engaged employees are essential to organization-wide success. As this thought leadership series has mentioned in the past, the most recent statistics from Gallup show that only 34% of US employees are currently engaged in their positions, a number that has been more or less stagnant for years. The data seems to indicate that the current employee burnout epidemic could be a contributing factor to this engagement stagnation.

Fortunately, there are a few steps that we believe leaders can take to manage and prevent instances of employee burnout. We have outlined these steps below:

  • Clearly define your mission, vision, values, and purpose. When employees are aligned with these key factors of corporate culture, they are more likely to act as brand ambassadors who energize and encourage co-workers and potential consumers.
  • Set clear expectations for new employees. During the onboarding process, explicitly state the position’s expectations in terms of normal work hours vs. after-work hours.
  • With the proliferation of emails on personal smartphones, the 9 to 5 workday has been largely abandoned. As a result, employees are encouraged (or expected) to answer work-related inquiries almost 24/7. To prevent this trend towards after-hours work, encourage your staff to limit after-hours correspondences to only the most essential.
  • Create clear guidelines for after-hours workload management. Consider setting recurring “dark times” where employees are highly discouraged from working, checking emails, etc.
  • If your organization’s culture requires a 24/7 approach, make it explicit within your core values that working long hours or being on call all the time will be noted and rewarded.
  • Consider investing in enterprise social networks to streamline communication and organize information.

Employee burnout is at an unsustainable level for US organizations, as it negatively impacts employee engagement levels, turnover rate, and retention. Fortunately, there are a number of potential remedies, ranging from large investments in corporate communications systems, to managerial changes, like an inspiring and engaging corporate culture, and clearly stated workload expectations.