April 23 2022

What’s the impact of burnout in the workplace?

In 2021, a survey by Glassdoor found that reports of burnout had nearly doubled. Mentions of burnout on its website have increased by a staggering 128% too. In this article, we’ll reveal the hard truth about the impact of burnout in the workplace and what employers can do about it.

Why is burnout at work happening now? 

While the pandemic didn’t instigate burnout, global events certainly brought it into sharper focus. This was a consequence of a combination of uncertainty and high levels of financial insecurity caused by global events. Many employees have never experienced this level of stress.

The pandemic highlighted key employee issues and reduced our tolerance for low-level daily stressors. These stressors include office politics, unrealistic deadlines or a lack of time-off. When mixed with the anxiety caused by the pandemic, it’s created somewhat of a storm.

Let’s not forget the sheer length of the pandemic, which is now in its third year. Due to this extended length of time, the survival mechanisms we employ both emotionally and physically are starting to wear thin.

The physical effect of burnout 

You’ve worked all year and never needed a day off. Then you go on holiday and suddenly fall ill. It’s not just bad luck, it’s a real phenomenon called the let-down-effect. Most of us have experienced it to some extent.

It happens because the body can’t maintain the levels of adrenaline and cortisol produced during periods of acute stress. When the stressful period ends we often crash and burn, and the result can be burnout.

Impact of employee burnout on business

We’re just beginning to understand the full impact of burnout in the workplace. Research by MetLife UK estimates that burnout costs the UK economy £700 million a year.

Let’s break that down:

Increased absenteeism

40% of all work-related absence is due to stress. That’s one in four absences that could be prevented if employers had wellness strategies in place.

Lower retention rates

When employees feel burnt out, one of the most common coping strategies is to leave their company. We can see this by the 95% of HR leaders who say burnout is sabotaging retention.

Lower productivity

One of the symptoms or in fact the result of burnout is feeling disengaged. This is important because low levels of engagement often go hand in hand with lower levels of productivity. According to Gallup, engaged teams are 21% more productive.

Reduced engagement and team cohesion 

Whole teams are at risk when an employee is feeling burnt out. This is because the individual can begin to retreat, disengage, make mistakes, or even be absent from work. This can negatively affect the cohesion and performance of the whole team. In extreme cases, one employee can affect the entire organisation.

Damage to employer brand

A company culture with stressed out employees and a high turnover rate won’t just affect an organisation’s bottom line. With the rise of review sites like Glassdoor, burnt out employees can vent publicly. This can create serious hiring issues for the company going forward. 

How do we recognise physical and mental burnout?

You may be considering the impact of burnout in your workplace and concerned for some of your colleagues. Here are many excellent strategies to help cope with burnout that you can share within your organisation to help employees. 

As an organisation, what else can you do to help reduce burnout? Here are some points for frontline management to help support employees:

Recognising burnout symptoms early is key to minimising the damage

Some people experiencing burnout may try to ‘push through’. Many won’t recognise they are experiencing burnout symptoms at all. 

That’s why identifying burnout symptoms early on is key. Early intervention will help minimise the impact of burnout in the workplace and help safeguard employees’ long-term health. 

Prevention is better than cure

Because of the chronic nature of stress and burnout, it’s essential to have mechanisms in place to deal with these early signs:

  1. Changes in attitude and mood
  2. Feeling less motivated
  3. Not asking for help
  4. Feeling isolated
  5. Making more work errors
  6. Feeling withdrawn
  7. Reduced performance
  8. Poor time-keeping
  9. Irritability
  10. Fatigue 

Burnout at work can in the early stages manifest as regular symptoms of stress. But if left unmanaged, this can progress into full scale mental and physical burnout.

Stress is no longer a badge of honour

The past two years have seen important new trends in our professional and personal lives. One of these trends include what some are calling a new era for mental health.

It’s no longer ‘normal’ to feel stressed because of high levels of work responsibility and unreasonable demands. We now recognise that stress impacts performance and leads to burnout.

Mental health affects all areas of our lives and its impact in the workplace means that employers need to take an active role.

84% of HR directors polled believed that tackling burnout is a major issue that needs addressing. Below are some of the important strategies that are helping to respond to this burnout crisis at work.

What can management do to prevent burnout in the workplace?

1. Create a forward-thinking company culture

Employees are increasingly looking to employers for solutions. Companies can do this by implementing a company culture that values mental health above profit. 

Focusing on employee wellbeing enables organisations to help create the right conditions where productivity can thrive.

2. Hire leaders who are empathetic towards prioritising mental health

Train managers to recognise the symptoms of burnout and implement wellness programs for team leaders. This empowers other employees to prioritise their own mental health.

3. Encourage connection and communication

Some of the symptoms of workplace burnout include isolation and feelings of shame. The result is that an employee may feel guilty because they can’t cope.

By implementing regular check-ins and one on one meetings, managers can keep track of how their team is coping.

4. Set realistic deadlines and expectations

One of the consequences of the current tight labour market is the lack of skilled candidates and vacant roles. For organisations, this can mean existing employees have to take on roles they lack the skills for or being given unrealistic work demands. 

This can cause stress and could result in burnout without intervention. Consequently, it’s a good idea to review an employee’s suitability for a role and offer upskilling opportunities when and if appropriate.

5. Holistic wellness programs in your benefits packages

Stress and anxiety is a top driver when it comes to mental health problems. In light of rising inflation, the cost of living crisis and a general increased focus on finances, more companies are including financial health in their wellbeing programmes to bolster their benefits packages.

6. Foster a ‘speak up’ culture 

Burnout symptoms can lead to feelings of isolation and a reluctance to ask for help. As well as providing preventative solutions, organisations must foster what the Chartered Institute for Personal Development calls a ‘speak up culture’. 

This means employees feel psychologically safe and that they can ask for help without fear of negative consequences.

Key Takeaways

  • One of the consequences of the pandemic is the positive shift in the way we view mental health
  • Employers can do more to protect employees from the impact of burnout in the workplace
  • Burnout first affects the individual and then trickles down to the whole team
  • Empower team leaders to recognise burnout symptoms early on
  • Invest in strategies for the long term