Written by DiveThru Team
Reviewed by Simone Saunders BSW, MSW, RSW
Employee Burnout: How To Support Your Team When They're Feeling Drained
Published Jan 24th, 2022 & updated on Jan 28th, 2022
If you manage a team or own a business, you’ve probably figured out that your team does its best work when everyone is satisfied with their jobs. But sometimes, even if you’ve done your best to create a mentally healthy workplace, employee burnout can rear its ugly head.
People are becoming more aware of the ways their job affects their mental health. The uncertainty of the pandemic and the struggles of being an essential worker or working remotely have people quitting their jobs in unprecedented numbers. In August 2021, more Americans left their jobs than any other month on record. Workers of all ages and income levels are saying, in no uncertain terms, that they’re not going to compromise their mental health for a job. And that’s totally valid, no one should be miserable because of their job.
The American Psychological Association found that employees who feel burned out are two-and-a-half times more likely to be actively job searching, 63% more likely to take a sick day, and 23% more likely to require emergency health care. The APA reports a stunning 550 million workdays are lost EACH YEAR because of stress. Stress is also believed to be a factor in 60-to-80 percent of workplace accidents. Stanford researchers estimate that each year in the United States alone, work burnout leads to about 120,000 deaths and $190 billion dollars in health spending. That’s a pretty serious issue.
Signs of Employee Burnout
First off, here are some of the ways burnout can affect workers:
- Increased cynicism
- Difficulty starting and completing tasks
- Feeling drained, often for no reason
- Irritability with coworkers or clients
- Trouble concentrating
- Feelings of disillusionment about the workplace
- Increased reliance on substances like alcohol, drugs, or food to feel better or numb feelings
- Physical symptoms like headaches, stomach issues, and difficulty falling asleep
Employees can experience burnout for a number of reasons, including:
- Unfair treatment
- Too much to do/ not enough time
- Unclear performance expectations
- Lack of communication or support from their manager
- A lack (real or perceived) of control
- Dysfunctional workplace dynamics
- Work-life imbalance
Those reasons have been exacerbated by the pandemic, causing employees to experience burnout at a very high rate; a study by the job site Indeed found that more than half of the people surveyed were experiencing work burnout, up 9% from pre-pandemic levels.
So, the question is: how can you help your employees recover from burnout?
If you’re an employee feeling burned out and looking for support, we also have an article on managing stress and avoiding burnout. Burnout sucks, so we’re here for you!!
How To Help Your Team Recover From Burnout
If you’re a manager or team lead, let’s dive into some ways to help support your team when they’re feeling burnt out at work!
1. What’s Causing Employee Burnout?
Before you jump into solution-mode and come up with a bunch of ideas, take time to understand why your team is feeling this way. In some organizations, employee burnout may be caused by an expansion phase and very quick turnarounds. For others, the workload may have been too high for too long. Or, it could be something as simple as poor communication.
This is why an open conversation is crucial — it will tell you what needs to change in order for your team to recover. When managers use pizza parties to cope with employee burnout, it kinda feels like putting on one of those flimsy bandaids that fall off before you’ve even had the chance to throw away the wrapper.
2. Allow Time To Recover
If your team has reached the point of burnout, you’ll need to allow time to recover. Depending on what the root cause of the burnout is, you might have to adjust workloads and push back deadlines. Become an advocate for your team and suggest a new game plan that takes into account what your employees are feeling right now. The risk of not doing it and pushing through anyways won’t just alienate you from your team but it will also mean you’ll likely lose some of them to other organizations.
If you really can’t adjust, make sure to show your appreciation and find tangible ways to let them know they will be able to recover once the project or phase is complete.
3. Be Flexible
Whether an employee is working from home or the office, offering flexible work hours can help with burnout. People might want to sleep in and get a later start, or work earlier hours so they can pick up their kids from school (or really any number of other reasons).
Work-life imbalance can be a major cause of job burnout. Working from home has blurred the line between work and personal life for many people. Work from home can end up feeling more like you’re living at the office.
If someone feels like they’re supposed to be “on” at all times, they’re going to drain their batteries pretty quick. Make it clear to your employees that their personal time is their own. They do not need to pay attention to their email or phone at all hours. If you’re the kind of person who likes to work in the evenings, but your team doesn’t — maaaybe wait until the next day to hit send on that email (or just schedule it to send in the morning).
In that previously-referenced Stanford research study on burnout, one of the recommendations was to implement family-friendly policies to reduce the strain of family-vs-work conflicts. Flexible hours, location, and clearly-defined expectations about personal vs work hours are all ways you can help your employees feel less burned out by making work something they choose to do, instead of it being forced upon them.
4. Adjust Wages
Financial stress is a major contributor to burnout. If people are living paycheck-to-paycheck (which nearly two-thirds of Americans are doing right now), then that’s a big-time cause of stress. Despite what the saying says, there actually is a correlation between money and emotional wellbeing; though we’ll admit “an annual income over $75,000 doesn’t buy any additional happiness” doesn’t quite have the same ring to it.
But while people who make more than $75,000 annually don’t see any increase in emotional wellbeing, people who make less than that do see a decrease.
Ultimately the takeaway is that people who are comfortable financially feel happier than those who aren’t. People who are able to pay all their bills and still have some rainy day money are way less likely to get burned out by their job, because they’re not one fender-bender or unexpected medical issue away from financial ruin — and they’re not working second jobs or worrying about side-hustles in their personal time.
5. Be More Open
Remember before you were the boss? Remember how frustrating it was when a decision was made above your head and you just had to implement it with no explanation?
People want to feel that they’re part of the decision process and that the work they do has an impact. You can help combat burnout by communicating openly about decisions. If you have an idea you want to implement, talk with the people who will be impacted by it, and do it with an open mind. If they express concerns about the impact, or offer suggestions for altering/ improving the idea, listen and find ways to incorporate that feedback.
This cause of burnout has been especially exacerbated by the pandemic. The pandemic has turned nearly every aspect of our lives upside down. Being open and communicating with your team will help people feel more in control and less burned out.
We know that not every decision is up to you. Sometimes your boss passes down a decision that’s been made without consulting you, but you’re expected to implement it. You can still be open and communicate with your team, though, and work together to find the best path forward.
6. Change the Culture
All the pay and flexibility and communication in the world doesn’t make a lick of difference if there’s still a toxic culture.
If just the act of going to work is stressful, not much else matters. Heck, even The Beatles broke up because their working situation became toxic, not because they didn’t make enough money or have flexibility with their working hours.
The most important action you can take to reverse employee burnout is to foster a good culture. That means actively working to be the best workplace possible. It’s a commitment but it’s also so worth it. Workplaces like to talk about having a family atmosphere… so walk the walk!
That means offering benefits with positive impacts on mental health, like health insurance, parental leave, and allowing for displays of vulnerability without judgement. Employees should feel empowered to take a mental health day or see a therapist through their benefit package without fear of being seen as weak or a bad employee. It doesn’t take much to discourage employees from taking care of their mental health. It could be as subtle as commending and promoting people who work extra hours. That implicitly tells the rest of the staff that overworking yourself and sacrificing your work-life balance will help you advance in the company.
Ultimately, reversing employee burnout is a twofold effort. Leaders need to do everything they can to reduce stress, while maintaining a positive and open culture.
When leaders are vulnerable and open about mental health, their employees are more likely to use the mental health resources provided to them because the stigma around the topic is gone. And why bother providing the resources if no one is comfortable using them, right??