How to prevent and reduce burnout: 11 ways to create a supportive workplace
By: Dr. Laura Hamill
Employee burnout is a problem during stable times let alone during stressful times. Lower productivity, emotional and physical exhaustion, lack of concentration, less recognition from managers, negativity and a decline in health are all signs of burnout at work. And employees are at risk now more than ever — with 40% of employees citing burnout as a top reason for leaving their job, according to our latest Limeade Employee Care Report on the Great Resignation.
Reducing burnout in the workplace and further knowing how to prevent burnout is crucial for the sake of retention and overall employee well-being.
This guide provides useful information on how to prevent employee burnout, how to reduce burnout in the workplace and manager tips for combating burnout in the workplace.
Workplace stress and burnout are common. They occur in all kinds of organizations, not just companies with poor management or dysfunctional cultures. Some of the most common causes of workplace burnout and stress include work overload, role conflict, high levels of ambiguity, pressure from management and a lack of support and feedback.
Burnout can happen when highly engaged employees experience low well-being due to unmanaged personal and/or workplace stressors. It’s also “contagious” — it can spread toxicity across a team or spill into people’s home life.
The good news is, burnout is preventable. With strong manager support and an understanding of what causes job burnout, employers can more readily know how to prevent burnout in employees.
What is employee burnout?
Burnout is defined as a response to prolonged exposure to emotional, physical and interpersonal stressors. As stress accumulates, employees begin to feel emotionally and physically exhausted. They also become cynical about their work, leading to high levels of apathy and reduced efficiency. Stress in the workplace comes from many sources, including team conflict, tight deadlines and heavy workloads.
Limeade Institute research indicates that employees who experienced greater levels of stress felt more exhausted, more cynical and less effective in their professional roles. Our research also suggests that your most engaged employees feel the impacts of stress more than unengaged employees.
Your most engaged employees are the most likely to burn out.
Burnout is when employees have been highly engaged for a long time, without the personal skills and organizational support to maintain their well-being. Burnout is a harmful individual and organizational virus that targets the most committed employees.
The 3 phases of employee burnout
Burnout occurs in three phases: low risk, moderate risk and high risk. In the low-risk phase, employees are still engaged in their work. There’s a low level of stress, but it’s manageable. Employees in the moderate-risk phase are still engaged, but they have high levels of manageable stress. Due to this stress, they may have trouble focusing on work activities. In the high-risk phase, stress becomes unmanageable. As a result, engagement declines.
Common causes of workplace burnout
Overload: When your employees have a never-ending stack of tasks and not enough time in the day to complete priorities, they’ll begin to feel stressed and exhausted.
Pressure: Many employees feel the pressure to perform, especially if they’re involved in high-value projects. This pressure can build up over time, increasing the risk of burnout.
Role conflict and ambiguity: Some employees burn out due to high levels of role conflict, which occurs when they’re asked to complete tasks or achieve goals that are incompatible with each other. A high level of ambiguity or uncertainty regarding work-related goals and tasks also contributes to burnout.
Lack of support from managers: Employees deserve constructive feedback, fairness, equity and transparency/involvement in decision-making. When they don’t get the support they need, their stress may become unmanageable.
Disconnect from personal and company values: A poor match between an employee’s personal values and the company’s professional values can lead to high levels of stress and burnout.
Broken “psychological contract” between employers and employees: A psychological contract is a set of unwritten expectations. If team members feel that an employer isn’t following through on the contract, they’re less likely to remain committed.
External stressors: Employees are humans with families, personal goals and dreams for the future. Even if things are going well at work, external stressors — such as caring for an elderly parent or worrying about medical bills — can lead to burnout.
Any of these factors alone or in combination can lead even your best people to withdraw from their work. In the past, companies have had a more hands-off attitude about staff’s internal feelings and well-being, but now employees expect it of their employers. And companies benefit from managing and knowing how to reduce burnout in the workplace.
The importance of burnout prevention and reduction
Engaged employees drive real business results — they’re energized, enthusiastic and focused. Engaged employees enjoy their work, help boost productivity, performance, morale and growth.
Ultimately, employee engagement is good for peopleand for business.
However, burnout can happen when highly engaged employees begin to have low well-being due to unmanaged personal and/or workplace stressors. To be burned out at work, an employee has to be highly engaged. The employee has to be all in and care deeply about their work to get to the point of feeling burned out. This means top-performing, highly engaged employees are at the highest risk for burnout.
Without a manager’s support or the ability to resolve stressors for themselves, engaged employees can eventually burn out. And the consequences can be huge. Burnout results in low productivity and high employee turnover — especially turnover of the most talented and productive people that employers can’t afford to lose.
11 ways to prevent and reduce burnout
The good news is that burnout is preventable. With strong manager support and an understanding of what causes job burnout, employers can more readily prevent their top talent from burning out.
1. Prioritize employee well-being and stress management
With so many employees experiencing burnout, there’s clearly something missing from many workplaces. That missing link is well-being, or a state of physical, emotional and financial wellness. A lack of well-being makes it more difficult for employees to manage stress, increasing the risk of burnout. It’s obvious why employers want to foster engagement, but few know how to foster high engagement and high well-being at the same time. Employee well-being drives engagement, and vice versa. When employees are engaged in their work, they feel good and live with a sense of purpose.
2. Authentically support both managers and employees
Managers play a critical role in ensuring employees have a great experience. They’re not only responsible for the career path of the employee, but they’re also responsible for bringing the company values and culture to life. It’s imperative that companies help managers understand how to do this.And it’s not just about well-being. Managers play a big role in employee engagement. In fact, they account for up to 70% of variance in employee engagement. Employees who rate their manager as excellent are five times more engaged than employees who rate their manager as poor, according to a Gallup report.
According to research by Limeade and Quantum Workplace, these drivers should include:
Maintaining a reasonable number of work hours
Realizing personal potential and learning new things
Using their greatest strengths
Fitting professional abilities with role and responsibilities
Feeling valued and respected
Feeling supported by a manager and organizational support
Managers who strive to create these conditions for their employees will be more likely to have employees with high well-being and who are truly engaged while proactively mitigating the risk of employee burnout.
The best way to foster employee engagement and well-being is to support employees. And one of the best ways to support employees is to focus on managers. Managers can use this free worksheet to help spot burnout in their direct reports.
3. Provide recovery time and breaks
Everyone needs a break to recover. Employees pushing themselves to the limit at work is not only unproductive, but it also leads to burnout. Managers should adjust workloads, create realistic expectations and be aware when someone has been going full throttle in overdrive for too long. While recovery time or breaks help deal with the symptoms of burnout, they don’t provide a real solution. Make sure managers also focus on the root causes.
Managers should meet with each of their direct reports each week for a one-on-one meeting. In this weekly meeting, managers should be sure to check on the employee’s overall well-being and address any issues that arise as quickly as possible. Design a plan for your employees to achieve their goals — balance is key.
To achieve that balance, managers must watch for signs of excessive absenteeism and address them if they occur. One of the best ways to avoid overloading employees with work is to keep up with the regular workload. You can’t do that if employees are missing an excessive number of work hours.
4. Allow employees to set boundaries
How people think about stressors has an impact on their ability to handle and recover from them. What’s stressful to one person can be energizing to another — it’s subjective. For some, stress is enhancing and exhilarating, while for others, it’s debilitating. When managers know how employees think about stress, they can help them cope with it better and prevent burnout.
Give employees permission to set emotional boundaries with their work by identifying limits and recognizing feelings. Without boundaries, employees are vulnerable to crippling disappointment when they receive critical feedback. When managers or executives support well-being improvement, employees will follow.
Help employees find their “sweet spot” of stress. Acute (good) stress keeps you on your toes, ready to rise to a challenge. Chronic (bad) stress, and our response to bad stress, can lead to many health problems, both physical and mental. Encourage employees to leave an hour early after a particularly stressful day or to take a break when needed.
5. Build social connections
People are wired to be social. And the more we can rely on each other for support, the better off we are. In fact, social support positively relates to important factors that impact stress, health, well-being and engagement. Employers have the unique ability to foster community among employees by boosting team support and social networks. These social connections will help employees get the support they need and help guard against burnout.
Challenge employees to create a plan to connect with a friend, family member or colleague at a scheduled time each week. Schedule weekly team lunches, go on a walking meeting or plan a team-building activity or happy hour. Celebrate your employees, and bring teams together to refresh and rejuvenate as a company to prevent work burnout. This will lift their mood and help them feel connected.
Connections inside and outside the workplace are essential for increasing well-being, which ultimately helps prevent burnout. Employees and managers should feel a strong sense of connection to what they’re doing, regardless of whether they’re on the clock or on their own time.
6. Help employees find their purpose
Helping employees connect to their purpose is key for workplace burnout prevention. When people have a real emotional connection to their work, they’re more connected to the company and their own purpose. This helps put things into perspective when work gets hectic.
Connect each employee’s role to your organization’s mission and values. Connecting roles to how jobs directly contribute to the goals of the company helps reinforce why each employee’s role matters.
Help employees take ownership in crafting their job. Job crafting involves intentional reflection on how the employee frames their job and the purpose and meaning derived from it. This exercise will help employees think through small changes they can make to take more ownership over their role and uncover their unique set of skills and strengths that make them great at their job.
7. Encourage flexible work arrangements
Flexibility reduces stress by giving employees a greater sense of control over their lives. When possible, offer flexible work schedules or allow employees to work from home. Employees tend to be more committed when they have the flexibility needed to balance their personal and professional responsibilities in a productive way. In some cases, employees are more productive under flexible arrangements than they would be if they had to spend an entire day in the office. This reduces stress for many people, and it may also help companies reduce the cost of office space, utilities, equipment and commuting benefits.
8. Take a holistic approach to wellness
The term “wellness” often focuses on physical health, but true well-being has multiple dimensions. A holistic approach recognizes that employee well-being is influenced by a wide range of factors, giving employees the tools they need to manage stress effectively. Establishing a holistic wellness program reduces employee burnout, increases engagement, improves productivity and makes it easier to create a culture of caring. Holistic wellness addresses these four dimensions:
Emotional and mental health
9. Set clear expectations
Keeping their boundaries in mind, make sure employees know what you expect of them. Understanding expectations helps employees feel more in control, reducing the risk of burnout caused by ambiguity and role conflict. When you outline your expectations, be as clear as possible to prevent misunderstandings that can lead to increased stress.
10. Provide feedback and transparency
One of the most common causes of burnout is a lack of feedback and transparency from management. It’s essential for employees to feel valued and in control of their professional growth, but it’s difficult to feel in control if managers don’t provide actionable feedback. Empower employees by identifying their unique strengths and giving them opportunities to improve upon their weaknesses.
Regular check-ins and progress meetings are helpful for employees and managers alike. These sessions give employees a chance to be heard and help create an inclusive environment. When employees feel included, they’re less likely to feel stressed, increasing engagement and reducing the risk of burnout.
11. Provide resources for burnt-out employees
Organizations and managers need to simultaneously help employees address and manage their stress and workload while enabling them to allocate time to replenish and build their resources. Resources are the physical, psychological, social or organizational aspects of the job that help achieve work goals, reduce job demands or stimulate personal growth, learning and development. Think of resources as the well-being drivers that people draw from to help combat the negative effects of stress.
Resources can include:
Time to relax and disconnect: When employees disconnect from work, they have a chance to release stress and clear their minds of work-related worries. This can help prevent burnout in the long run.
Time and space to focus on building good relationships: Strong relationships can help employees deal with work-related stress in a productive way.
Prioritizing care of emotional and physical health: Employees can’t be their best if they’re worried about their physical or mental health. Offering health-related resources ensures that team members have the tools they need to improve their well-being.
Helping people reconnect meaning to their jobs: Employees are more likely to be engaged and productive if they have a strong sense of purpose.
Prioritize burnout prevention and reduction with Limeade
Employees who are completely burned out have lost sight of meaning in their work. Managers and organizations must recognize burnout and help reestablish meaningfulness in employees’ lives and work. Employee burnout is real, and it’s affecting millions of workers globally. It’s imperative that companies understand the impact burnout has on employee engagement and business results — and know the tools and strategies for how to reduce burnout in the workplace. It’s up to organizations (and managers) to spot signs of burnout and intervene as quickly as possible.
Companies should strive to prevent workplace burnout in the first place by focusing on employee well-being and manager support. When employees are burned out, companies and managers need to take an active role in helping the employee recover. Burnout isn’t a personal issue, it’s an organizational issue. Burnout needs to be addressed at all levels of the company to effectively prevent and combat it.
Limeade offers proven solutions to help employers promote well-being and reduce the risk of employee burnout. Learn more about our well-being solutions and then book a demo to find out how they work.
Despite the pandemic, Gallup reports a sharp drop in the percentage of employees who strongly agree that their employer cares about their overall wellbeing. Check out this guide on how to reduce employee attrition with a well-being program.