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10 Factors That Lead to Employee Burnout

 10 Factors That Lead to Employee Burnout

Employee well-being


Burnout is a real hazard in the modern workplace. Not only are workloads increasing with the changes brought about during COVID but the line between work and home is also blurring as more people work remotely from home. Long days, stressful conditions, staff shortages, and general pandemic-fatigue are wearing on people making it critically important for leaders to recognize the realities of burnout and understand the elements that lead to it. Here are 10 factors you should be managing proactively to help your people avoid burnout.

Unrealistic Workload

When people have too much to do and not enough time to do it, their stress levels rise. They make mistakes, they make poor decisions, and often their team members are left picking up the pieces creating a cycle of overwork that permeates the organization.  What to watch for: 

  • Make sure employees’ skills are well matched with the job they are doing
  • Provide enough support
  • Establish clear expectations
  • Ensure time lines are realistic

Uninspiring Work

Work that is un-enjoyable or under stimulating holds just as high a risk for burnout as when work is overwhelming. ‘Bore-out’ happens when people feel stuck and uninspired and the tedium causes stress and anxiety and makes people feel irritable, cynical and useless. What to do:

  • Infuse fun into work that is inherently repetitive
  • Establish a strong link between daily tasks and strategic objectives
  • Offer cross training opportunities
  • Mix things up occasionally

Lack of Authority and Control

Employees need to have an appropriate level of control over their work and how they get their work done. This means having access to the resources needed as well as knowing that they have discretion regarding the specifics of their work. Some tips:

  • Match responsibility to capability
  • Encourage collaboration
  • Avoid micromanagement
  • Allow freedom to make decisions

Unclear Expectations

Whether it’s deadlines, objectives or career progression, employees need to know what is expected of them to succeed. In turn, managers need to understand what their people want and desire and then provide opportunities for them to achieve success. Without this level of clarity people feel like they are spinning their wheels, which creates unnecessary tension and stress. How to avoid it:

  • Talk about ambitions, and make a plan to achieve
  • Support a variety of career progression routes
  • Provide professional development
  • Establish clear outcomes

Unfair Treatment

Unfair treatment creates toxicity – it is demeaning and disrespectful and it can lead to burnout very quickly. People need to feel safe and secure at work and when decisions are made with bias and favoritism versus fairness it erodes trusts and leads to disengagement and disillusionment. How to avoid:

  • Ensure the workplace is free of discrimination of any kind
  • Be consistent
  • Establish clear policies for pay, evaluations and promotions
  • Be transparent

Unsupportive Managers

There is a lot of truth to the adage, ‘people don’t leave jobs; they leave managers’. Managers are employees’ primary source of support and their behaviour is vital to preventing burnout. People need to know they can come to their manager with issues and concerns and that their manager will help them and have their back. Here’s how:

  • Take responsibility and avoid defensiveness
  • Admit mistakes and be vulnerable
  • Establish an open-door policy
  • Talk openly and honestly with employees

Feeling Unappreciated

The need to feel appreciated is universal. Whether it’s a casual thank you or a formal award, being recognized for a job well done is one of the best anecdotes to a stressful week, a disheartening setback, or a tight deadline. It creates pride, loyalty and motivation and is a great way to stave off burnout.

  • Consider unexpected, fun, and ‘just because” rewards for all to enjoy
  • Ensure daily work is recognized as well as larger milestones
  • Pay attention to individual and team reward
  • Ensure your compensation package is fair and sufficient

Disconnection From the Team

Particularly relevant right now with all the work-from-home scenarios; isolation is can be very stressful and overwhelming. At first it may be nice to not have interruptions from coworkers or having to listen to office gossip, but after awhile the inability to easily communicate and connect at-will can lead to depression and stress. Likewise, in an office setting, when people and teams aren’t communicating effectively the same level of disconnection occurs. Consider the following:

  • Set aside social time (virtual or in person) and get to know one another
  • Use buddies and mentors to answer questions and stay connected
  • Establish solid communication practices and policies
  • Invest in team building activities

When Failure is NOT an option

Making mistakes is part of being human - it’s how we learn and grow. When the workplace is intolerant of failure and when the consequences are dire, the risk of burnout is particularly high. Fear and pressure to be perfect will almost certainly lead to burnout. Here are ways to avoid:

  • Practice stress relief at work with yoga, exercise, meditation, etc…
  • Where consequences of mistakes are naturally high (i.e healthcare) communicate openly and honestly versus trying to cover-up
  • Accept mistakes and debrief thoroughly afterward
  • Encourage new ideas and take risks as appropriate

Rigidity versus Flexibility

No one performs their best when they are subject to rigid rules, policies and practices. People need to know that their individual circumstances will be considered and that they are people first, and employees second. Approaching work and expectations with flexibility will help people feel comfortable and relaxed versus stressed and uptight.

  • Provide flexible work options
  • Support ample time off with vacation, personal days and short workdays
  • Consider all requests respectfully versus a one-size fits-all approach
  • Go with the flow – work hard when necessary and have a bit of fun during the downtimes

Burnout can be avoided – even in the middle of a pandemic! Whether the job is inherently high-pressure or circumstances change to create unexpected stress and pressure, how employers deal with the factors that contribute to burnout can make all the difference. And while we can’t totally eliminate the things that cause people to feel stressed at work we can commit to understand what leads to burnout and establish practices that help reduce the effects and create a supportive, respectful and fair workplace.

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Great Place to Work® is the Global Authority on Workplace Culture. We make it easy to survey your employees, uncover actionable insights and get recognized for your great company culture.

Nancy Fonseca
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