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Employee Burnout Defined: Causes and Tips to Prevent Burnout

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Employee burnout is as real as a global pandemic. If you’re an employer on any scale, chances are you’ve noticed lackluster productivity, decreased collaboration, or a dip in enthusiasm from an employee at some point. If you’re curious or worried about burnout (and you should be), you should know how to recognize the signs, causes, and how to mitigate it in the future.

Employee burnout defined

The World Health Organization defines employee burnout as:

 “a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed. It is characterized by three dimensions:

  1. Feelings of energy depletion or exhaustion;

  2. Increased mental distance from one’s job, or feelings of negativism or cynicism related to one’s job; and

  3. Reduced professional efficacy

The definition of burnout is interesting because it specifically defines burnout as a work-related problem. As such, it falls on employers to at least be familiar with the phenomenon in order to address it. 

The causes of employee burnout

The causes of employee burnout are not particularly surprising nor rare for modern workers. Common causes include:

  • Insufficient resources to fully meet job responsibilities

  • Ambiguous roles and fuzzy responsibilities

  • Limited feedback from peers, supervisors, and/or managers

  • Too much work and not enough time, team members, or resources

  • Restricted opportunities for growth or input

  • Lack of reward, whether fiscal or otherwise

  • Skill mismanagement

These are a few common causes but by no means encompass why an employee becomes burnt out or disengaged from their work. Often, a combination of factors - both professional and personal - cause an employee to exhibit signs of burnout

Tips for dealing with employee burnout

1. Reassess workloads

If you’re concerned that the employees on your team are burnt out, take a minute to list out the extra duties each employee has. Is one person shouldering more than their fair share? Can they teach or unload some responsibilities to other employees? If you think there is an imbalance of work take the time to speak with your team to more evenly distribute day-to-day tasks. 

2. Align tasks with employee interests

If you know one employee likes to be more organized and in charge of scheduling events, social media, and emails, align their work duties with these interests if they aren't already. If another enjoys improving processes, is detail-oriented, and focused on smaller details, make sure she’s focused and working on projects that require strong attention to detail. 

3. Show gratitude and recognition

Giving and receiving feedback can make people uncomfortable. After all, it’s a little awkward to dote over small accomplishments if it's otherwise outside of your character. But if you’re worried about a particular employee suffering from burnout, take a few minutes at the end of the day or week to say thank you or well done. 

4. Ask for employee’s feedback and input

Check in with your employees about what is going well, what they wish they could change, and what they’re satisfied with. If you notice an otherwise vocal employee is voicing less and less opinions, it’s a pretty decent sign they’re less engaged and likely burnt out.

Recognizing the causes of employee burnout allows you to act and hopefully mitigate the negative side effects of disengaged employees. Remember, it’s easier (and cheaper!) to speak with and realign a burnt out employee than it is to go through the hiring process to replace them if they decide to quit. 


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