A man yawns at his desk while he works late at night trying to meet a deadline.
Employee burnout is often mistakenly seen as an individual problem when, really, it's due to systemic issues like unequal promotion opportunities, micromanagment, or other factors. — Getty Images/LumiNola

Burnout is often seen as an individual problem that can be resolved by finding a better work/life balance, “learning to say no,” and “self-care” techniques, such as meditation or yoga. However, evidence shows that burnout at work is due to systemic issues, such as unequal promotion opportunities, inflexible work schedules, micromanagement, or lack of support for working parents.

Burnout is estimated to cost the economy more than $500 billion annually. It can lead to high employee turnover, low morale, high absenteeism, and lost productivity, all of which stifle business growth. If you’re seeing signs that your company could have a burnout culture, here’s how to assess the problem and what you can do about it.

Look for symptoms of burnout

There are a couple of ways to identify that your employees are feeling overworked and underappreciated. Most experts rely on the three main symptoms identified by psychologist Herbert Freudenberger in 1974: lack of motivation, unhappiness at work, and a sense of inefficacy.

Employees who are stressed more often than usual, exhausted at work, unable to concentrate, irritable, or unmotivated are most likely experiencing some form of burnout. Escalating rates of absenteeism, high healthcare costs, and high rates of employee turnover can also signify that you have a burnout culture.

Burnout can happen for a number of reasons, not all of which are under your control. Burnout skyrocketed during the pandemic, as employees adjusted to working from home while juggling different family obligations and managing increased stress. A burnout culture at your company is within your control, which is why it’s important to get to the bottom of the issue.

[Read more: How to Spot Employee Burnout (And Prevent It From Happening in the First Place)]

[Ask] yourself as a leader, what is making my staff so unhealthy?

Jennifer Moss, Harvard Business Review

Diagnose the root cause

A Gallup survey of 7,500 full-time employees found the top five reasons for burnout are:

  1. Unfair treatment at work.
  2. An unmanageable workload.
  3. Lack of role clarity.
  4. Lack of communication and support from their manager.
  5. Unreasonable time pressure.

These causes are all systemic — meaning they aren’t unique to a specific individual but something that is ingrained in your workplace culture.

There are a few different tools you can use to diagnose the cause, or causes, of burnout at your company — the Maslach Burnout Inventory is one example. Alternatively, you can set up one-on-ones with your managers, send out anonymous surveys, or reflect on your own to understand from where the issue stems.

“[Ask] yourself as a leader, what is making my staff so unhealthy? Why does our work environment lack the conditions for them to flourish? How can I make it safe for them to work here every day? We have to dig into the data and ask our people what would make work better for them,” wrote Jennifer Moss in Harvard Business Review.

Change your culture

Address the problem head-on by making small, meaningful steps to change your culture. Consider piloting burnout prevention strategies to see what works without having to spend a lot of money.

“I suggest starting with one or two departments or teams and asking one simple question: If we had this much budget and could spend it on X many items in our department, what would be the first priority?” wrote Moss.

Brainstorm with your employees the changes you could make that will positively impact their work experience. It could be providing more time off, extending more support for remote work or flexible hours, offering more meaningful work, or celebrating achievements frequently. You could also provide training to managers to help overcome the main causes of burnout, such as lack of communication or an unmanageable workload.

Remember that each employee is different; what can be motivating for one person can be stressful for another. Work with your team to make sure you’re setting clear expectations, providing the support they need, and setting each person up to succeed with the right resources.

[Read more: 5 Things That Cause Employee Burnout and How to Avoid Them]

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