Burnout does not discriminate based on age. It infects entry-level employees and C-suite executives alike. Symptoms include lack of productivity, cynicism, energy depletion, and unexplained headaches or stomach problems. No industry is immune.
According to research included in Emplify's 2020 Employee Engagement Trends report, a startling 62 percent of respondents suffer from burnout at work. Of those employees, one in three suffers from burnout every week. About 20 percent experience burnout daily.
In 2019, the World Health Organization made headlines when it classified burnout as a legitimate medical diagnosis. The WHO defines burnout as "a syndrome conceptualized as resulting from chronic workplace stress that has not been successfully managed." But if you've never endured professional burnout, it can be difficult to empathize because it manifests a little differently in everyone.
Emplify's chief people officer Adam Weber recently recalled a conversation with someone who'd experienced burnout's debilitating effects.
"A friend of mine shared that burnout felt like walking a mile in waist-deep mud every day," Weber said. "It took all the energy he had to complete simple tasks, and his outlook on life devolved from sunny to cynical. As a result, he developed chronic heartburn that only went away after he quit his job."
A wakeup call for leaders
In the face of widespread burnout, it's unsurprising that Emplify's study found nearly 73 percent of respondents are open to a new career opportunity. For people who have been with their current employer for less than a year, that number spikes to 77 percent.
"Too often, the first time a manager hears that an employee is burned out is in the exit interview," Weber shared. "So many organizations lose high performers to burnout because they'd rather leave than risk looking weak."
There's no silver bullet for fixing burnout. But, Weber explained, there are several actions leaders can take to burnout-proof their cultures.
1. Make sure managers are meeting one-on-one with direct reports.
Regular one-on-one manager meetings may sound like a no-brainer, but Emplify's survey revealed it's not as widely practiced as some would think. More than one-third of survey respondents meet with their manager only once per month or less, and one in ten almost never meet one-on-one with their manager. The employee-manager relationship is critical to retaining talent, and one-on-one communication is an essential building block for these relationships. The less a manager meets with an employee, the more likely an employee will choose to suffer burnout in silence.
2. Inspire vulnerability.
Managers have the most influence on an employee's overall workplace experience. Therefore, an employee on the edge of burnout must feel comfortable having an honest conversation with their manager about how they're really doing. Achieving this level of trust takes time. It can happen only in cultures of openness, which starts with managers being vulnerable themselves. Building trust through two-way transparency will provide employees with psychological safety, or the degree to which an employee trusts that they can voice concerns without fear of negative consequences.
3. Bake rest cycles into your culture.
When people think about resting from work, paid time off is usually the first thing that comes to mind. But according to Weber, employees need the kind of rest that restores the internal resources needed to do great work daily.
"We don't wake up with an endless supply of energy and focus. The more we use, the more depleted those tanks become," said Weber. "Building breaks into your daily and weekly routine refills the energy and focus tanks. Burnout happens when you neglect to replenish those tanks for weeks, months, or years."
For some, daily rest means going out to lunch with co-workers. Others may eat at their desks so they can go for a walk over the lunch hour. Weber explained that his co-founder is a fan of the Pomodoro technique, which dictates five minutes of rest for every 25 minutes of work. Longer rest periods, like weekends, are also essential for recharging.
Is your culture burnout-proof, or a burnout breeding ground?