How employers can help prevent burnout

The term burnout was first used in the 1970s for specific work fields. As the issue grew, it was added to the World Health Organization International Classification of Diseases as an occupational phenomenon in 2019.

Here we explore how the employer can take a role in avoiding employee burnout.


More than half of employees feel burned out


In 2018, Gallup published the results of a survey they completed among 7,500 full-time employees. Despite the research being conducted pre-COVID, the causes of burnout are pretty much the same today. In this survey, 23% of employees reported feeling burned out very often or often. An additional 44% of employees reported feeling burnt out sometimes. Adding those numbers together, it turns out that 2/3 of employees are facing the feeling of burnout in their work. Take a moment and think about your colleagues – that is a large portion of us, who could really be struggling.


A burned-out employee is not productive


For the employer, there is a big difference in terms of cost, whether their employees are in a good mental health state or they are burned out. The employees dealing with burnout are 63% more likely to need and use sick days. Also, it is 2.6 times more likely that they are actively looking for a new job to get out of a situation they attribute to their work environment. Even if these people do not change their jobs, their worries and struggles make their work performance significantly worse than their happier colleagues.
Burnout leads to diminished productivity, decreased focus, frustration, and tiredness.
This affects both the individual and the organization.


The main 5 reasons for burnout


These are the main factors employers should focus on when trying to reduce the risk of burnout


1. Unfair treatment at work

If people feel that they are treated unfairly compared to other employees, their risk of burnout more than doubles immediately. Sensing unfair treatment can come from different factors. For example, unfairness can mean that managers have clear favorites. They may be biased in their decisions or the employees are compensated differently for the same work tasks.
The employee must be able to trust their employer. Attitudes will change when they feel they are not in a similar position to others. They may feel defiant against their employers or start being neglectful towards their work tasks.


In light of this, the manager should always look at their team as a whole. Understand that there is no room for unfairness in the workplace. This can quickly backfire in terms of employees’ mental health and productivity.


2. Unmanageable workload
If you give an employee more work than they could ever complete in the time they have, they may look at it as a challenge at first. It turns into a problem when they understand that no matter the effort that they put in, managing the workload is not possible. Even a very productive employee will lose their optimism when given so many tasks that it is impossible to complete them.


The role of the leader in such a situation is to help their employees figure out what the optimal workload is for them. If the workload is too big, the employee needs to notify their manager right away. It’s very important that the manager is open to discussions around this topic. The employee should not be afraid to tell the manager if it’s getting to be too much and they should work together to find a solution.


3. Lack of role clarity
Gallup’s study showed that only 60% of employees find that they know what is expected of them in the workplace. If there are no clear directions and expectations, it will make it very difficult for the employees to keep up with their tasks. This leads to confusion and frustration.


In regular practice, people have job descriptions that state their work tasks. If those work tasks start building up and growing over time, it may lead to ambiguity in the role of the employee. If the tasks get too complicated or too scattered, the employee must acknowledge the issue and talk to their employer about it. The employer should be responsible for taking the time to regularly sit down at a meeting with their employees, discuss the tasks that they have been given, and talk about expectations and the results thus far. This will give the employees confidence in their work, both in their past achievements and for the future.


4. Lack of communication and support from the manager
If the employee is left alone in their tasks, with their worries, and even their accomplishments, they lose contact with their manager. Even a very motivated employee can realize over time that no one is paying attention to what they are doing and feel the lack of support. Why would they then do their best? The employee loses interest in their work and ends up doing the bare minimum.


Constant discussions and communication with the manager make the employee feel that they are supported. Employees who feel they have the support of their manager are 70% less likely to be a victim of burnout.


5. Unreasonable time pressure
If the employees feel like they never have enough time to complete their tasks, they are at very high risk for burnout. When a manager gives an employee a task, they must be able to come up with a realistic and sensible time limit for completing it.
Oftentimes people set up work tasks without thinking through how much time this task is going to take. If the employee is unable to complete the task in the given time and they have multiple tasks waiting for them, all of the work will start piling up.


The employee has to stand up for themselves and notify their manager when they are not able to complete a task within the time limit and they are falling behind. The role of the manager in such a situation is in communicating and setting realistic expectations. In situations where there is no precedent for timing a task, the manager and the employee should try to come to a reasonable and flexible time limit together. This way, the likelihood of getting a reasonable time plan is the greatest and the employee feels that they are being listened to.

Burnout is not solely the burden of the employee, the employee has to do their part as well.
Burnout can definitely be avoided, prevented, and foreseen. When a leader focuses on communication, equal treatment, and realistic well-thought-through tasks in their managing strategies, they are in a much better position. If employees are in a difficult situation, a good and attentive manager will make a difference. Tired and burned-out employees affect the organizational culture, customer service, and development. Managers should do their best to avoid such issues.


Other important factors can lead to employee burnout, but if you want to start from somewhere, the list above is a great start you can focus on.

Read more what our psychologists have to say about burnout.