For millions of working adults, it’s been almost three years since the last big summer vacation. The COVID-19 pandemic led to great difficulty – and danger – in traveling, which meant that vacations have been either short or nonexistent. The restrictions posed by the pandemic, coupled with the tedium of taking a casual day off when working from home, has led to an enormous 47% of American employees going a whole calendar year during the pandemic without taking any paid time off at all. This is leading to burnout.

Burnout doesn’t just lead to lower productivity and morale, but it can also contribute to lower employee retention. A large fraction of the members of The Great Resignation aren’t quitting in order to switch jobs, but in order to stop working because of their dissatisfaction with standard working life. Solving burnout in your workplace will save your team’s mental health as well as keep them committed to their organization.

Before we get ahead of ourselves, though, what exactly are we dealing with?

The What

Burnout, the phenomenon when a team member feels exhausted and mentally spent due to work, is one of the biggest threats to employee engagement. It’s a real issue – the World Health Organization declared burnout an occupational phenomenon in their 2019 revision of the International Classification of Diseases.

We know the intangible results of employee burnout: slower production, a more negative team culture, lower employee retention, and the generally irritable nature of anyone who’s felt overworked during a global health crisis. Gallup recently uncovered some consequences of an exhausted workforce that are a little more quantitative…

Burnt-out team members are 

63% more likely to take sick days

50% as likely to discuss performance goals with their manager

13% less confident in their performance

2.6x as likely to be actively seeking a new job

These trends are both a bad sign for a staff’s well-being and a company’s bottom line. Extra sick days and consistent turnover significantly hamper efficiency no matter the business, which is one more reason why burnout should be remedied immediately.

The Why

As stressful as these last couple years have been, people have been running out of steam at work long before any global pandemics. So, what usually causes it?

Gallup used the same survey to determine the biggest factors contributing to employee burnout, which serves as a glance at workplaces we don’t want to emulate. The five causes most commonly mentioned are:

Unclear communication from managers

An overwhelming workload

Lack of managerial support

Unreasonable time pressure

Unfair treatment at work

Team members who strongly agree that they’re being treated unfairly at work, in fact, are 2.3x more likely to experience a high level of burnout. 

We’ve all trudged through jobs that we felt were defined by some of these factors, whether an excessive workload or careless management. Remember how sick of it you were? Millions of employees in hundreds of industries are feeling the same way, and it’s costing organizations untold amounts of money.

Let’s fix it.

The How

The first and simplest step to tackling employee burnout is to address those five causes above. Sometimes it’s possible to notice these issues from your own spot in the leader’s seat; overwhelming workloads and tight deadlines can become obvious once you begin to deliberately look for them.

However, it’s much more difficult to perceive problems like unfair treatment and unclear communication without seeing the perspectives of your team themselves. This is where anonymous surveys can be a huge help.

The anonymity of answering questions about work culture and burnout will be crucial to getting candid answers from your staff – answers that you can take action on as soon as possible. Learning that most people agree about a problem’s presence, such as heavy workloads or sparse communication, can be eye-opening.

That said, not all burnout is a result of mismanagement. Sometimes folks are just sick and tired of working, regardless of any particular complaints about the position. We can all relate to feeling exhausted, and we all know the solution: relaxation.

Even if your team has access to a healthy number of vacation days, they might not be using them due to the fact that travel has been so fickle and events like concerts have been scarce. Encourage everyone to take vacation time for the sake of their mental health – a day or two off in the middle of the week can be surprisingly rejuvenating.

While the pandemic spoiled countless travel plans, it also revealed a new type of relaxation to other workers: hybrid work. Tons of evidence has been uncovered indicating that working from home can cure stress while maintaining high productivity, and some folks have even decided they don’t want to return to the on-site office at all (looking at you, Apple).

Whether or not your organization’s set up for hybrid work depends heavily on what your company does and the roles different people play within it. If you can manage to integrate some remote work into your team’s week, though, it could lead to a huge upgrade in energy and employee satisfaction.

A sales team, for example, could be given the opportunity to work from home one day each week. It’s like a tiny little vacation that brings the same efficacy in guarding against exhaustion. A hybrid work week might also lead to your workers taking fewer frivolous sick days, which certainly helps productivity and profit.

Curing burnout is vital to both your team’s well-being and your company overall. Your workers are your biggest investment, and prioritizing their satisfaction is the path to success as both a people leader and a business leader.

Use surveys (or some sharp intuition) to determine whether your team is becoming worn out, and if they are, address the causes right at the root and make your office a more welcoming place. Though, if the office environment itself isn’t the problem, then go ahead and get them out of the office entirely. You’ll both be glad they did.

Curing burnout isn’t just an employee retention justification example – it will lead to a happier team and a more productive workplace.

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