Burnout and How to Address It
Burnout is being identified as a major health crisis in the U.S. workforce, leading to reduced job engagement, lower productivity, more frequent or extended sick leave, occupational change and even permanent withdrawal from work. Recent studies have found more than 1 in 5 workers experience feelings of burnout.1-2 Moreover, burnout has been associated with increased health risks, including heart disease and type 2 diabetes.3
What is burnout?
Burnout is an occupational phenomenon caused by chronic job stress that leads to feelings of emotional exhaustion, indifference towards one’s work and an absence of value or achievement in the workplace.
Three main characteristics of burnout:
- Emotional exhaustion feelings of fatigue due to work
- Depersonalization unsympathetic or impersonal response and distant attitude toward one’s job and recipients of one’s service, care, treatment or instruction
- Professional efficacy feelings of incompetence and lack of successful achievement and value in one’s work
What causes burnout?
Research has identified six main risk factors4-5 that contribute to burnout, including workload, control, reward, community, fairness and values. Interestingly, effective managers can positively navigate these factors6 and increase employee value, level of engagement and productivity. Work overload stems from feelings that an individual does not have the capacity or resources to meet job demands.
Another factor that contributes to burnout is perceived control over job-related decisions. Managers that promote independent thinking and decision-making facilitate employee engagement by conveying feelings of trust and value. Individuals are more naturally engaged and productive when they feel that their opinions matter.
Similarly, reward and recognition of hard work and achievement reduces vulnerability to burnout by building trust, emotional security and a sense of impact. Recognition attaches value to a person’s actions and communicates appreciation of that person. It helps to confirm or validate an employee’s competency, and conversely, the lack of recognition could imply inadequacy.
Another important factor that helps protect against burnout out is a supportive and inclusive community, where an individual feels secure, comfortable and ‘fits in’ with their co-workers. When employees feel surrounded by unresolved conflict, vulnerable in their job security or uncomfortable interacting with their coworkers they gradually develop feelings of anxiety, isolation and loneliness. This feeling can even permeate into their personal lives. As a result, these individuals are not as engaged or productive in their work.
Fairness is also a key part of effective work environments. Employees should feel that company and managerial decisions are based on logic and fairness. It also helps if managers explain their rationale behind big decisions. This transparency helps promote security, trust and inclusiveness.
Lastly, value alignment plays an important role in protecting against burnout. It is important that company values align with personal values to reinforce feelings of value and meaning to the role itself. When personal values align with work culture, employees feel more committed to the job and more engaged and productive in their work.
What can you do if you are experiencing burnout?
Managers can have a major impact in helping to reduce employee burnout.7 -8 If you feel like you may be experiencing burnout, consider these key questions and have an open dialogue with your manager or supervisor.
- Are my job expectations in line with my manager?
- Is my workload fair and balanced?
- Do I feel valued as an individual and not just a worker?
- Do I receive regular feedback, including rewards and recognition for hard work and achievements, and recommendations on how to improve and grow as a person and professional?
- Do performance work measures inspire them to improve?
- Does the person feel that the workplace culture is healthy?
- Are there policies in place to address unresolved conflicts?
- Does leadership promote inclusiveness, fairness and teamwork?
- Do employees feel listened to or are there opportunities to voice their opinions?
- Do employees feel involved in decision processes?
- Does the person feel their work is in line with their values and motivations?
- Do employees believe that their work has significance?
If you feel that any of these questions apply to you, approach your manager or supervisor and have an open conversation about how you feel. Ask them what can be done to address your concerns so that you can feel more valued and engaged in your work.
Remember, that while burnout is becoming more prevalent, it can largely be prevented through small changes. You matter and you deserve to experience happier, healthier and more productive workplace.
- Wigert B and Agrawal S (2018) Employee Burnout, part 1: the 5 main causes. Workplace
- Garton E (2017) Employee burnout is a problem with the company, not the person. Harvard Business Review.
- Salvagioni DAJ, et al. (2017) Physical, psychological and occupational consequences of job burnout: A systematic review of prospective studies. PLoS One. 12:e0185781.
- Maslach C and Leiter MP (2016) Understanding the burnout experience: recent research and its implications for psychiatry. World Psychiatry. 15:103-111.
- Salmela-Aro K et al. (2011) Bergen Burnout Inventory: reliability and validity among Finnish and Estonian managers. Int Arch Occup Environ Health. 84:635-45.
- Aronsson G, et al. (2017) A systematic review including meta-analysis of work environment and burnout symptoms. BMC Public Health. 17:264.