What every leader ought to know about employee burnout

Every leader ought to know that burnout isn’t caused by the employee. It’s caused by the workplace.

Burnout a big problem. It costs the UK economy £28 billion per year and is a huge productivity hit for many organisations.

But with thought and planning, much of this could be avoidable. Here is what we should all understand about employee burnout and what we can do about it as leaders:

Why does employee burnout matter?

Even if we look at this on a purely numerical “good business” front, employee burnout is hugely costly for organisations. According to recent research, burnout causes:

Higher staff turnover – burned-out staff are almost three times more likely to be looking for a new job.

Lost productivity – around 23.3 million UK workdays are lost to workplace burnout every year.

Injury and healthcare costs – burnout makes team members 23% more likely to need to visit a hospital.

Sickness – staff suffering from burnout are 63% more likely to take a sick day.

Death – burnout is a killer. In the US, nearly 120 000 deaths per year are attributed to burnout.

What should leaders not do about burnout?

The World Health Organisation now officially recognises burnout. It places responsibility on the organisation. Not the individual. Failing to recognise this is probably the worst thing a leader can do.

No amount of telling people to “say no” to extra time, mindfulness exercises, or demanding staff “toughen up” can battle a workplace culture that results in regular burnout.

More holiday time isn’t an easy fix. Especially if team members return to a thousand emails and tasks that haven’t been handled in their absence.

Nor do many “wellness tools” work as a solution if the underlying cause of a stressful, exhausting workplace isn’t fixed.

The first step is recognising that workplace practices, policies, habits, systems, societal issues, and – often – personalities are at fault. Not blaming the individuals.

The causes of burnout—and what to do about them

1) Overwork

A workload that is too heavy for too long is the cause of most burnout cases.

Many workplaces ask a lot of their employees. This isn’t always a bad thing – if the support, recognition, and rewards are there.

However, some organisations foster ongoing competitive environments where constantly staying late, “crunch time”, and other terrible practices are the norm.

Heavy workloads need to be recognised and addressed via:

-Safe lines of feedback and question enquiry

-Clear communication about goals and targets

-Set prioritisation of targets

-Encouragement, support, and understanding

-Frequent breaks or reduced working hours

2) Lack of control

Few people like being micromanaged. Even the perception of a lack of control or autonomy can drive serious burnout.

Yet when workload grows, time and again leaders try to micromanage their way to success. It never works.

Of course, making sure you work with a specialist IT recruitment agency to source the most suitable candidates is vital.

Yet almost any team will hit more targets when you provide more in the way of coaching and support than micromanagement.

3) Unfairness

If discrimination (accidental or otherwise) or bias is perceived within a workplace, burnout is a common result.

You can imagine one person being favoured with the choice assignments. Or two employees being treated unequally for the same mistake.

The solution for this is theoretically simple but hard to implement. Every leader should have systems in place that allow concerns to be addressed impartially and with no blowback on whistleblowers.

4) No recognition

Organisations that simply expect 110% effort all the time – with no recognition of hard work or indication when “crunch time” will end – routinely experience incredibly high staff turnover.

That said, there is a danger that recognising achievement can accidentally make the situation worse. Some systems promote harsh competition or unfairly put certain people on pedestals.

Better reward systems include factors like caring for colleagues. They allow peers to nominate peers to get rewards for the sometimes unseen value they deliver to the team.

5) Bad value matching

In the modern workplace, hiring candidates for engineering and IT jobs that are the right cultural fit for the company has never been so important.

Recruiting people that match your stated values but then being perceived as failing to live up to those values can be even worse. You only need to check GlassDoor and similar sites to see why.

Work with your HR team or recruitment specialist to make sure you’re hiring people whose values align with yours.

Otherwise, poor job satisfaction, lost productivity, low employee happiness, and bad mental health are the likely result.

The role of the employee in burnout

This is not to say that the individual plays zero role in every case of burnout.

The wrong job, for example, can leave you burned out when a different opportunity might be better suited to you. This means you might consider changing jobs if burnout becomes an issue.

In general, if you are suffering from workplace burnout and feel it is affecting your mental health, it is always worth seeking out professional help and advice. There is no longer any stigma attached.

Are you a leader looking to recruit for a high-pressure environment?

Ernest Gordon is a specialist engineering and IT recruitment company. We give you access to the most suitable professionals through a proven, open, honest, and transparent process.

Reach out to us today for a cost and commitment-free discussion about your needs.