Brace yourself: Burnout is a reality in your company. Here’s how you should address it.

April is Stress Awareness Month, and employees are burnt out. Longer work hours, uncertainty over the pandemic, and less socializing have led to higher rates of burnout and mental health issues. While Zoom lets our mind dial in, our body is left behind—stuck in the chair. A day spent on Zoom is draining, not just emotionally, but physically, too, and leaving us in a heightened state of burnout.

Burnout goes beyond “feeling emotionally and mentally exhausted.” In fact, the World Health Organization called burnout an occupational phenomenon in its International Classification of Diseases. Good bosses should watch for burnout signs—agitation or aggression, lateness to meetings, missed deadlines—but better bosses should assume burnout is already happening and address it.

Job burnout is caused by workplace stress, not just from an individual’s workload, but also from an unhealthy work environment, because employee stress costs employers as much as $300 billion annually. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, companies that support workplace health have a greater percentage of employees at work every day and reduced presenteeism. Academic experts and the World Health Organization outline three components of burnout:

  • Exhaustion: Feeling depleted and fatigued,
  • Cynicism: Feeling more irritable. Small things might make you feel hostile and angry, and 
  • Negative emotions: Feeling down about yourself; which may result in declining mental health

Here are some recommended coping mechanisms for burnout:

  • If overwhelming feelings set in, start small. Determine what you can address first. Question what’s not working, what you can postpone, and what to take off your plate. Start small and work towards the bigger issues. 
  • For employers, it’s critical to provide tools and resources to combat burnout. This includes wellness offerings that can be accessed digitally, tips and tools to replace the in-office perks that were delivered prior to the pandemic (office yoga, water cooler chats). Employees still want to be able to engage with one another and develop that connection, even digitally.
  • Use sick days to care for your mental health. Since the pandemic hit, workers are taking fewer sick days even though they’re living in the most uncertain, challenging and anxiety-inducing times. 

Taking a sick day to care for mental health is a valid way to cope with the workplace stress that leads to burnout. Yet, fewer employees are taking mental health breaks. In addition to having a negative effect on employee health, not taking mental health breaks works against employers by resulting in lost productivity. Leaders need to set the example that mental health days are encouraged and important. 

Companies can further make an impact by financially investing in employee wellbeing. For every dollar invested, companies are seeing $3.27 in savings. Provide your employees with resources and wellness tools, like Sprout at Work, as ways to develop healthy connections with colleagues, and practice healthy behaviors (like walking meetings, accountability meetings etc). Today, Millennials make up 50% of the global workforce and a staggering 81% report feeling disconnected due to work-from-home. This demographic already reported higher rates of depression than previous generations. Businesses must find new ways to promote employee camaraderie and social cohesiveness as part of their benefits offerings, in addition to normalizing discussions around mental health and workplace burnout.

As stress awareness month comes to a close, employers should continue to question the effort they’re putting into recognizing the signs of burnout, the systems they have in place to manage employees experiencing burnout, and how they can mitigate the influencing factors that are ultimately costing their business productivity and cultural loss.

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