If you woke up this morning feeling exhausted, stressed and wondering how you can possibly make it through a long day at work, you’re not alone.
An increasing number of employees feel that way and don’t know what to do about it. Burnout — that troubled feeling of physical or mental collapse from overwork or stress — is going to be a huge problem for companies and their workers in 2017.
Already, 95 percent of human resource leaders say burnout is the No. 1 culprit of turnover, according to a new study of 614 HR officials conducted by Kronos Incorporated, a Massachusetts-based workforce management solutions firm, and Future Workplace, a New York talent management firm. Although burnout is a problem at companies of all sizes, larger organizations reported more of problem, particularly those companies with more than 2,500 employees.
For some employees, burnout stems from a perception of unfair pay, unreasonable workload or working too many hours. For others, it is the result of poor management, a negative workplace culture or insufficient technology to do their jobs, the survey shows.
Many companies are well aware that a high percentage of their employees are burnt out and ready to bolt. However, organizations reported in the survey that they have too many competing priorities to focus on fixing the issue in 2017 and lack executive support for improvements.
But there is a way out.
Overcoming burnout, and the fatigue, irritability and exhaustion that are symptoms of it, starts with breaking the cycle of destructive behavior. Stop and think how you got to your current state of burnout. Have you mismanaged your time, failed to delegate, or allowed your work to take an emotional toll? Is your burnout the fault of your employer’s unfair expectations, lack of guidance and scant praise or appreciation? Is your profession one with high stakes and you’re failing to take the necessary breaks?
Once you pinpoint the cause, “don’t accept burnout as the way things are,” says Shari Roth, a leadership coach with CAPITAL iDEA in Weston, Florida. “Take action.”
Make time for a one-on-one with a manager instead of agreeing to unreasonable demands, drowning in expectations and enduring the frustration of not getting anywhere, Roth suggests. “Get clear on what’s important and develop a plan together. A lot of people don’t get feedback, don’t feel valued, and don’t feel that their work is making a difference and that’s where the burnout comes from.”
Another cure for burnout is training. Some people have jumped into manager positions without any know-how and need help with leadership skills. Others need help managing excessive stress. Roth suggests asking for training, or if the budget is tight, speak to peer managers or outside professionals for guidance. Would it help to establish a mentoring relationship? What are the options for continuing education or professional development? Is it possible to take a mini-sabbatical or short break to regroup?
To be sure, some workers will quit their jobs, particularly after watching co-workers succumb to burnout. Already, employers are seeing a surge in applications as the economy improves and employees are eyeing the greener pastures. “A lot of coping with burnout is knowing what you can change and what you cannot change,” says Juan Sanchez, professor of management and international business at Florida International University in Miami. “When you have the overwhelming feeling you can’t get results, it is time to make a change.”
For their part, employers need to be cognizant of the signs of burnout. When a top performer misses deadlines, becomes uncharacteristically irritable or unable to solve problems, someone at the company needs to initiate a conversation. It could be a mentor, a peer, a manager or the HR director. “It’s important to feel there is someone at your workplace to talk to,” says Paula Allen, vice president of human resources for property management firm FirstService Residential in Hollywood, Florida, which has 6,400 employees.
Too often, that doesn’t happen. When a burnt-out employee comes to meet with her in HR, Allen considers herself fortunate. “Usually they leave and don’t tell you why,” she says. “When someone does come in, we can usually figure out what to do. But you’re lucky if you have those conversations. Often, they are not comfortable telling their supervisor they are struggling.”
Miami attorney Michael Ehrenstein has put systems in place at his law firm to prevent the epidemic burnout in his profession and create a culture of balance. “When people get burned out, they get tired, less creative, communicate less and retreat into a hole. Their work is inconsistent,” he says. “I don’t want that in the office.” He encourages firm members to have outside interests to ensure work-life balance: “At their first interview, I ask them, ‘What do you do for fun?’ If they can’t answer, then I know they are too big a risk.”
Not all burnout can be eliminated, but much of it can be avoided. Companies can use metrics such as vacation use or technology that tracks schedules to know who is at risk. Sanchez is optimistic that despite survey findings, wise companies will give workers more resources and support in 2017: “Talent is becoming more important. If you treat your people as a mechanical, expendable unit, you do pay a price — and so will your employees.”